Going Fishing…

Do you remember going fishing as a kid? I do. I hated it.
I would get a rod, and a reel, and get some squiggly worms and off I would go. I would dump the line into the water. Time would pass. The first minute–nothing. The second minute–nothing. The third minute–nothing. Well if it was a war of wills, the fish always won because I never, never caught anything.
As an adult I realize my childhood experience had two deficiencies. One, I had lofty hopes. You can’t get a 20-pound bass out of a small stream. I hoped for too much. Second, I didn’t have the patience to stick to the plan. If you are going to do something, you need to be committed to seeing it through. I lacked the patience as a kid (or the confidence to know that over time, I would prevail.) Fisherman know by experience that they will catch something, and that if they don’t, it is not their fault, and they will still enjoy the process. I never had the experience of catching a fish, so I never enjoyed the process.
When I think of Andrew, Peter, James and John, with Jesus invitation, I think they had these two attributes from being fisherman. They had well founded hope, and they had patience to enjoy the process. When Jesus came, they could say to themselves, “What can happen here?” and be realistic about it. They could commit to the process and enjoy it.
When they saw Jesus, they saw a new kind of hope. When they saw Jesus, they knew they could catch fish and they new they could be patient with the process and even enjoy it. After all, they always had real fishing to fall back on. So, what the hey, they took the adventure.
How about you? Does Jesus provide a new hope for you? And can you commit to the process—even enjoy the process?  Can you go fishing for people?
Pastor Gerry
 
The Gospel according to Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord
The Gospel according to Mark 1:4-11
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
A message from the Pastor…
The reality is that I do not drink much pure water.  It is not that I don’t like the taste of water, it is just that I like the taste of ice tea better. I drink ice tea frequently. I drink orange juice in the morning and on occasional beer or wine in the evening, and the rest of the time: ice tea. It is just that other drinks taste better. They  are sweeter, or have caffeine, or have a good taste that I prefer over water.
However, to be perfectly honest, on a hot day when  you are working hard, there is nothing more refreshing than a tall glass of cold water. It goes down smooth and it seems that every part of you welcomes the new water and you feel better after drinking it. For pure refreshment, there is nothing like water. Sugar, caffeine, or additives don’t really make it better. By saying all this, I wonder why I don’t drink more water.
Thinking about it, the water of our Baptism is the same way. It is the means that we enter into God’s family. By the water, we receive the grace of Jesus Christ and have his assurance in new life in him that will last forever. But even though that is refreshing, we sometimes are attracted to other earthly additives or concoctions of refreshment. We may be taken in by the promise of pleasure or stability or even joy or fun. We might even forget for a moment how refreshing the water of Baptism is for us. Then something happens, and we are reminded that the taste of the “additives” is short lived and so is the refreshment. The waters of our baptism are the only thing that give us true and lasting refreshment.
Pastor Gerry

The Epiphany Story

Jesus is born and already things are happening!  These wise men from the East are following a star with the idea that a new child is born to be King of the Jews.  They go to King Herod and tell them they are here in search of this child king.   Notice that “king of the Jews” is a title not used again until Jesus is arrested and before Pilate.  Further, Herod is in this story and in the Gospel of Luke at Jesus’ arrest.  Also, frankincense and myrrh are oils used in preparing a body for burial, funny gifts for a child.

When we read this story, we see some parallels that take us from the birth of Jesus to the death of Jesus.  In addition to the connections just mentioned, we also know that the Jews rejected Christ and at his birth, it is the Wise Men (not Jews) that accept him, even as a baby.  The Jews in Jerusalem are afraid of Herod.  The Wise Men sneak off and shun Herod and return without reporting in.  Herod is infuriated and went on a rampage killing children two years old and younger.

This story is about jealousy, deceit, fear, hatred, murder, power, and preservation at all cost.  It is also a story about innocence, grace, love, humility, and obedience.  It is a story about God entering our crazy world and having both incredible visitors and homage and incredible threats of destruction.  This story reminds us that from the very beginning, Jesus light is not very popular with some people.  — God’s plan will be met with resistance.

In the midst of the joy of Christmas we are reminded of the realities of our world.  Jesus is not welcomed everywhere.  Jesus provides a message of love and grace, but people within the body of Christ and outside the body of Christ are not willing to accept that.  The religious conflict we have today, have been from the very beginning.  However, the light of Christ reached the Wise Men, and for 2,000 years, it continues to reach people and shine in the hearts and minds of many.

It looks so innocent.

Mary and Joseph star-gazing at their little newborn son.  This day is a personal joy for them.  Having a baby and creating new life is a very wonderful thing.  We know that from our experience.  So, I am sure, after the birth, they were able to have their private moment.

But quickly they were reminded that everything was not going to be normal.  The shepherds came with an outlandish story of the angels telling them to come.  Then there were teh wise men from a far -off place bearing gifts fit for a king.  Then there was Simeon in the temple who would proclaim the greatness of God in this baby.  Mary and Joseph hardly had a time for just those personal moments.

From the very beginning, people saw the promise of God in this little baby.  It was a fulfillment of prophecy to some.  It was new found hope for some others.  It also was a threat to the status quo for others.  Everyone from Mary and Joseph to the Shepherds to the government authorities had a vision of what this baby will bring.

It is two thousand years later.  Was the power of God spent only for this one particularly day 2000 years ago?  Or can we look at this baby and see a new vision of what he means for us today?  How does this baby mean new life for you — now— today — from your pew — from your home — from your world?  Do you see a promise?  Do you see hope?  Or is your life threatened by what this baby could possibly bring — if you let him.  Today is Christmas.  Yes, it is an event that happened more than 2000 years ago.  But it is an event that keeps on happening.  We change, and we need a new Christmas each year to relate to God in a new way.  We need new assurances in the power of God.  This is what this baby brought.  It is what this baby brings.  Merry Jesus Christ-mas.

Pastor Gerry

 

Hope

This morning, we will highlight the hope that Mary and Elizabeth are given as being part of God’s divine drama. As we discussed last week, Mary was joyful about her new role despite the social stigmas that would be wrongly applied to her. But Elizabeth knew what was going on and it was good for them both to share their little secret.
While we think of the joy that Mary had, she also has a huge expectation as she praises God for his son and what God has done for her and what God is going to do for the world with the birth of his son. Mary proclaims that God has looked with favor at the lowly at the expense of the powerful. He is merciful for all those that fear God. He is strong and has scattered the proud. He has fed the hungry and sent the rich away. He has been faithful to his promise to Israel.
God has done a great deal, but it is what God is going to do that gives Mary hope. She sees a new world order—the poor will be blessed and the rich will be sent away. She is hoping for God’s justice. We all might argue with Mary if God’s justice ever came to this world. But God’s justice came by a promise of a new life, a place different then this world where justice can happen—God’s way. Mary sees that as an extension of the life of her son. We see that in the promise that her Son gave us.
The line in O Little Town of Bethlehem says it all: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Pastor Gerry
Fourth Sunday ofAdvent
The Gospel Reading:
Luke 1:39-56
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46And Mary said,
 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
 Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name.
 50His mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation.
 51He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly;
 53he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and sent the rich away empty.
 54He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy,
 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Mary Yesterday and Today

Sometimes the hardest stories to reflect on are the stories we know so well. The announcement from Angel Gabriel that God has selected Mary to bear his son, is one of them. It is a nice story. Gabriel is well received after his not-so-great first visit to Zechariah. Mary is willing, and in a brief moment sizing up the situation, gives her consent to God.
There is nothing written about Mary’s analytical process. What was she thinking? If I could be so bold to suggest, she new very well what was asked of her. She also knew what would happen to her socially. Any kid today would also size all that up very quickly. She knew what her situation was—things were good with Joseph and it looks like she will get married soon. So, the conclusion was if she didn’t want her life wrecked and to be shamed by everyone that loved her, she should say no.
But all that–and it was a great deal—did not stand against her ability to put her trust in God. Favor with God transcends this world. It is always the better choice, but there are some costs. Mary was willing to take her lumps because she knew God was with her. What else could she do?
How about us? How does Jesus come to us this Christmas — does he come asking us to take our hits? Maybe he comes with a choice and “Going with God” is definitely the better choice, but there is a cost. Maybe, just like what it was for Mary, the first Christmas wasn’t easy. But then again, the world was changed. Then again, Mary’s life was changed. Then again, our lives are changed. Emmanuel is “God with us.” Jesus is Greek for Joshua or “God Saves.”
Pastor Gerry
The Gospel Reading:
Luke 1:26-28
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

God’s great plan is unfolding

The Gospel of Luke starts with a couple of stories of the prequel to Jesus’ birth narrative. These stories highlight the astonishing power and presence of God in setting the stage for Jesus’ birth. We see that individuals were shocked by visits from the Angel Gabriel as he reveals the master plan of God to share his Son with us.
Sometimes we think Bible characters were special people. But I think that these stories show just how human and normal the people who were told of Jesus’ coming orwere personally invited into God’s master plan really are. Zechariah is a high priest. He is old and without children. He has a predominate role in the community as a trusted leader. He rose up the ranks by being skeptical and crafty. (These are not necessarily the skills needed to talk to an Angel.)  When the Angel Gabriel appeared, let’s just say, Zechariah didn’t handle it well. But, as many of God’s partnerships with humans, Zechariah had a heart and in time showed his graciousness and admiration for the great works of the Lord.
In our time when the whole notion of God and of Jesus Christ are questioned, Zechariah seems to be a good biblical character to identify with. We can hold on to what we see and understand and doubt the rest, but over time, what we seem to question is too overwhelming for us to just write off. There is something going on here and we all are a part of it. Enjoy this story that puts each and everyone of us in First Century Palestine.
Pastor Gerry
The Gospel Reading:  Luke 1:5-25
5In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.

Serve Others

As you can imagine, there are many stories from the Hurricane Katrina mission trips to Bayou La Batre, just south of Mobile, Alabama. On this trip, we were working on the new construction of a Habitat for Humanity house. While we were there, some other professionals were working on the house too. When lunch time came, we all took the break to eat our peanut butter and jellies at the same time.
One of the professional workers was pretty young, perhaps in his twenties. With his Creole accent a clue, I asked if he was local. He was. Then I asked him a simple question that was a tough question for him – I asked where was he during the storm.
He said that he and his girlfriend were living in a house about a mile from the gulf. He convinced her to stay at the house during the storm with him. At night, the water started to rise and enter the house, from under the front door. They were mad as they put their TV and other items up higher in the room. But the water kept on coming. By daybreak the water was up to their necks and still coming. They pulled down the step ladder to the attic and climbed up. He brought his hammer with him in case the water would continue to rise and he would need to hammer through the roof.
There they sat. Cold and scared. In the attic, with the water rising. The young man confessed to his girlfriend. “I am so sorry that I did this to you. I am so sorry that I put you in a position that could harm you or take your life. I am so so sorry.” The water continued to rise to the attic, and he took his hammer and banged out a hole in the roof and his girlfriend and he crawled out and three hours later, they were rescued from the roof.
They are married now. He works on Habitat for Humanity houses as service in thanksgiving for still being alive and in the hopes that these houses will withstand the unwanted drama that he faced.
When I think about it, the happiest times in my life have been when I am serving, especially doing something for someone that they can’t do themselves. Sure, it may make us feel needed, but it also makes us feel purposeful and kind and those are two things we need to survive. Think about your willingness to serve the church or outside the church. Sometimes it is hard to sign up, but when we get engaged in the project, we do so happily and joyfully—and we make a difference. Somewhere, Jesus is in all of that. After all, he told us he came to serve.
Pastor Gerry

“Lord, Save Me!”

Have you ever been rescued? Have you ever spoken the words: “Save me?” It is really hard for a guy to admit that his life depends on the capacity of someone else to save them. We see rescues out of traffic accidents or at a hurricane when someone is stranded on a roof. When it is you, when the words come out of your mouth, it is a whole different thing.

We can’t say to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” until we admit we need saving. We can’t yield to God unless we know that we can’t do it ourselves. In our independence and self-sufficiency we will try everything else before we get to the point, we say “save me.”

Jesus has already saved you and me. He has already pulled us out of the trap of short term life that we have here and promises new life in him. You can believe that or not. But I ask “What do you want to have happen?” Wouldn’t you rather bank on what you want or is good for you? Just like Peter, Jesus pulls us out of the water. Jesus saves us. Reach up and see what happens.
Pastor Gerry

The Gospel Reading: : Matthew 14:22-23

[Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Walk the Talk

You have heard the saying, “Walk the talk!”  That means that your actions are consistent with what you have been saying.  That is important criteria when we judge people.  If someone says they care, then leaves us hanging to fend for ourselves, you would say that the person’s actions are not consistent with their words. You may conclude that the actions are true and the words are a lie. St. Paul has a word for walking the walk: Cruciform – that everything Jesus said and did was consistent with his purpose. Jesus said he would lay down his life for his friends and he did.

Can you imagine Jesus preaching all day and then not being able to shake off the people and have them leave?  So, it is getting late.  It is time to eat.  Can we hear Peter addressing the crowd, “The show is over, go home!”   But that is not Jesus, is it?

In this story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus shows his true colors.  He shows he cares.  He shows that he means what he says.  He shows he walks the talk.  He shows he is Cruciform.  This is a great example for us to follow.  It is also a great comfort as we look toward our new life in him.
Pastor Gerry
The Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.