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Bob Diehl was on his way up the corporate ladder in New York City. He knew where he wanted to go and how he was going to get there.

“I was determined,” he said, “to make a lot of money and be president of a corporation.” He saw his future clearly. Knew every step to take along the path he was walking. He clearly knew who he was, what he thought about himself and his family, his place in the world, and the way life was supposed to be.

Then, as that wonderful theologian John Lennon said, “real life got in the way while he was making other plans” because suddenly and unexpectedly he was caught by the challenge of the mysterious and uncertain call to “drop his nets and follow Jesus.”

“I was a good Catholic,” he said, “which meant I went to mass on Sunday mornings.” But as he got closer to the top of the corporate ladder, “the more I realized that to play the corporate game I had to play meant giving up my faith. It was then; I realized God was calling me to change the direction of my life.”

Calling he and his wife to leave their suburban lifestyle with all the trappings of big and expensive house, two cars, the technological gadgets and recreational toys to begin a journey like the one Peter, Andrew, James and John began one early morning on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The mist of the early morning had dissolved in the brightness of the early morning and Zebedee, a fisherman of no great importance, sat on the deck of his boat with his two sons James and John. The fishing was done for the day. The catch of fish had been taken to market. Now, they were sitting on the deck of the boat that was resting at ease on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and they were tending to the busyness of mending their nets, planning the next morning’s fishing when a voice from the shore calls.

“James! John! Sons of Zebedee! Come. Follow me! And, I will make you fishers of men and woman.”

Without a word, James and John drop their nets to join Jesus and Peter and Andrew.

Now, I wonder what Zebedee thought about this because when I finally realized God was calling me to pastoral ministry and I was about to enter seminary, I called my Dad, who was living in California. I said, “Dad, I am going to seminary to become a minister.” Silence. Absolute silence. It had taken me forty-six years, but I finally made the old man speechless. So, I wonder what Zebedee felt when his two sons dropped their nets. What did he think? What would he have said?

Might he have said, “You know, I heard the voice calling, “James! John!” but, I didn’t know who it was. I just saw a young man accompanied by two other men I recognized as the fishermen Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. I only later learned his name is Jesus. Well, John and James dropped their nets in mid-mend. Just like that. They drop their mending hooks, hemp strands, climb off the boat to join that young man. No good-bye. No, “Shalom, Poppa.” They do not even ask if they could leave. They just drop their work. I was stunned. Of course, my sons are known to be hot heads, the kind of men who act first and think later, but never had they just left in the middle of doing their work. Yet, this Jesus summons them to follow him and they obey immediately. I was stunned. They never obeyed me like that. Later, I heard Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were in the midst of fishing when this Jesus called them, “Come follow me. I will make you fishers of men and women.”

They, too, just dropped their nets and left their boat. They did not even stop to fold their nets or give their boat to someone for safekeeping. No! Jesus calls; they drop their nets, and go off to who knows where and doing who knows what. He just barges into their lives like with my sons. My sons were not thinking about following this Jesus. They were not thinking about changing their lives all around.  That was the farthest thing from their minds. We were talking about the fishing, the nets, our family, and when they would inherit the boat when Jesus intrudes into our lives, disrupting everything, and changing everything with his, “Come follow me.”

Of course, that’s how God calls people. He intrudes in people’s lives without asking their permission. He disrupts their neatly laid plans and the way they think the world works. Think about Abraham and Sarah. I doubt they were planning to leave Ur and everything including their family to wander around until God told them to stop. Moses wasn’t planning to return to Egypt. David was a child watching his father’s sheep. Every Prophet from Elisha to Malachi was just living their lives when God showed up to call them to prophetic ministry. Mary was doing household chores like the good Jewish girl she was when Gabriel showed up saying, “Greetings, favored one!” Even Joseph was simply sleeping when he received the call to name Jesus.

So, it really makes perfect sense for Jesus to just show up with his” come follow me” not as a question or a request, rather as an invitation to begin a journey without really knowing exactly the destination or all that will be required of a person. After all, Jesus is God with us. Why wouldn’t he do a very God kind of thing?

Now, Peter, Andrew, John and James had no idea where they were going or what exactly they were going to be doing by following Jesus. They probably didn’t know any better than we do what being a fisher of men really meant. However, they would soon learn what Jesus was calling them to do as they followed him throughout Galilee. Going to Capernaum by the sea then down to Mt. Carmel and then around Gilead. Tracing the outline of the ancient tribal lands of Zebulon and Naphtali, lands lost and people lost when Assyria conquered the land and scattered the people in exile like blades of grass blown far and wide by the wind, they would witness words of the prophet Isaiah coming true, “In the former times he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. A people who lived in deep darkness on them light has shined.”  These first disciples of Jesus they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They were part of those people who lived in darkness until the light of Christ came to shine upon them and that light was calling them to choose to change by following Jesus.

You see, as they witnessed with their eyes Jesus’ healing and witnessed with their ears Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, they were experiencing directly all of God’s promises that Isaiah prophesied, “You have multiplied the nation, and you have increased its joy. They rejoice before you with joy at the harvest, for the yoke of their burden and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. See, a child has been born to us, a son given to us, authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

As they saw Jesus healing every disease, every sickness and every affliction what they were experiencing was a foretaste of the pouring out of God’s steadfast love and mercy that all people of the world would receive on the day of Jesus’ self-offering on the cross and the resurrection.

And, what they would learn on the journey with Jesus was that Jesus was calling them to not only drop their nets and be eye witnesses and ear witnesses to the coming reality of what Isaiah said, “Once a people walked in darkness, dwelled in a land of deep darkness, but the people have seen a great light;” the great light of God’s endless peace, justice and righteousness, but Jesus was calling them to participate in this new thing God was doing. Calling them to cast out their nets woven together of the good news of God’s grace and be part of God’s gathering all people of the world into the new life of God’s kingdom through Jesus the Christ because it is in God’s kingdom where the whole community of humanity’s life would be sustained, where every human community would discover its well-being. That’s what Jesus meant when he said and I’ll teach you to be fishers of men and women because God’s gathering of people into the community of God’s people would come through their discipleship and through actions as God’s servants. They left their nets behind them along with families and friends and their settled seemingly predictable lives to learn from Jesus how to serve God’s plans for humanity and not their own plans, their own ambitions, their own bias or their own desires.

As a matter of fact, one of the most important lessons they had to learn was to trust God and not to look back about all the changes that were happening to them. It was a little like climbing a mountain. One of the first things experienced mountain climbers tell people is” don’t look down” as Kari Myers writes it,” because when you have a long way to fall then your attention is focused on falling and fear grasps hold of you and all you can think about are all the problems and barriers to climbing the mountain. That happens to individuals and it happens to congregations. We can always come up with a list of substantial reasons why we cannot overcome the challenges God sets before us. Sometimes it’s too hard, too big, too complicated, too unmanageable, too new, and uncertain, unproven. Yet, it really isn’t about how high the mountain is or how weak the climber is. Rather, it is about God and it is about the disciples realizing that when they focus on God and going where Jesus is leading then they could do whatever God in Christ is calling them to do.

The second lesson they had to learn was that being God’s servant meant serving others and recognizing that, “as Barbara De Grote Sorenson and David Allen Sorenson tells us, “that servant hood is a gift of grace God gives to those who are givers to heal us of our sinfulness, our self-centeredness, our self-preoccupation, and selfishness” so we might sustain and promote the well-being of others without worrying about rewards or what we get out of it. Because, we know as lesson one reminds us that we trust God’s generosity. After all God is the one who gave us life in the first place.

Finally, the disciples had to learn that in every generation God is calling men, women, old and young alike to “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.

Indeed, Jesus called all of us. Oh, it may sound like a tiny voice calling you to get up out of bed  and go to worship or shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk after a snowfall or maybe it was a deep, unnamed feeling that told you that you needed to be focused on God’s agenda for humanity; or it may have been Jesus calling you through the voice of your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your child, or simply the rhythm of life telling you today is the Sabbath, the resting time of God’s Kairos time, but it was Jesus calling you.

And, just to be clear, Jesus will be continuing to call all of you. Intruding into your life. Disrupting your neatly laid plans. Calling each of you to take a journey whose destination is not exactly known, to participate in a ministry that is the new thing God is doing now in your midst, which in this moment remains a mystery, somewhat uncertain and may when it is known make you or others speechless.

It might be as advocates for food justice or immigration justice for farm workers and farmers alike. It might be becoming a healing center for those suffering from moral injury and Post Traumatic Stress or being advocates for better access to mental health treatments.

It might be…. anything. But, it will be a ministry that will gather people together in community to sustain and promote the well being of this community and the whole community of God’s people around the world.

The only real question all of us need answer is, will we drop our nets and follow Christ?

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Water. Simple. Common.

We are surrounded by water in the lakes, the rivers, in the snow visible on lawns and along sidewalks and roads, in the water that comes rushing out of our faucets at the flick of wrist and in the. water covering more of the earth’s surface than land.

Indeed, there is enough water on the earth to cover the entire United States to a depth measured in miles and water makes up between 50-90% of the body weight of every living organism. Human anatomy textbooks tell us we can live longer without food than we can without water because water is in every cell of every organ in our bodies and our cells and organs cannot function without water and the same is true for all living organisms. We cannot grow food or grass without water, just ask the Texas and California farmers who have suffered from years long drought, the folks in Atlanta who watched their reservoirs dry up several years ago, or folks living in Flint, Michigan.

Of course, water has other uses. We clean our clothes, cars, and our dishes with water. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries water powered many of the industrial machines and ocean liners as well as being part of a national transportation network that included the Erie Canal.

Water is simple. It is common.

Yet, water becomes much more when it is poured into or baptismal font. For in this font our simple and common water is transformed into the waters of creation, the flood, the Red Sea, and the Jordan River.

When I hold an infant in my arms and I take water from here and splash it on the child, the water is transformed into the gift of God’s grace that comes to us without our having to do anything to earn it or deserve it. God just gives it to us freely, without any conditions being placed upon it because like the infant in my arms we simply receive this magnificent gift of God’s love. In this water borne love we are claimed by God to be one of God’s own beloved for the entirety of our lives as if saying, “You are God’s beloved child deserving love and respect just because you are you.”

When an adult stands next to the font and I take water and splash it on her head, the water is still transformed into the gift of God’s amazing love, but that person’s past is also washed away, it no longer exists, it is dead and it is buried in a tomb. She is liberated by God to live her life confident that all of God’s promises of an abundant, vibrant life are hers. She is a new creation and may begin writing her life story anew, writing it with the freshness and the joy that comes every time new life springs forth.

All of this happens on the day Jesus wades into the waters of the Jordan River, the waters John used to symbolically wash clean those who chose to turn their life around. Who chose to say, “I don’t want to live my life the way I have been living it. I want a different life. I want a new life with God and God’s people.” The same waters their ancestors crossed through to claim the land and life God promised them both in exodus and exile. A promise affirmed by God declaring, “I am your God and you are my people, my people who will show the rest of humanity what living in shalom looks like when lived fully.”

The people John baptized were assured of that same new life with God and God’s people because Jesus waded into the same water they had waded into and just as John baptized them, so too did John baptize Jesus. Not because Jesus needed to repent, rather because God chose to live in solidarity with all humanity by sharing the entirety of our lives with us. Experiencing all we experience.

That is what God was doing through Jesus from the moment of his birth to ordinary folks like Joseph and Mary in the everyday. common surroundings of a barn witnessed by ordinary folks like the shepherds and villagers of Bethlehem to the day Jesus wades in the water and is baptized.

Yet, God, also, came to be with us to write humanity’s life story anew. To move humanity away from the life of a world that hungers for more whether that is more profits, more body surgery, more cosmetics, more cars, more beer, more sex, more certitude, more security, more power, more oil, or more of whatever is the latest and greatest shiny, new thing, acquiring it and possessing it through coercion, hate, trickery, or game-rigging mechanisms without compassion or concern for others lower in the social hierarchy. You see, God comes to be with us to move humanity toward a righteous life, which is the point of Jesus saying “so we might fulfill all righteousness.” However, being righteous gets kind of a bad rap because the centuries long stereotype of a righteous person is being self-righteous, which deludes a person into thinking they are morally superior and, perhaps the arbiter of everyone else’s morality, as if they are themselves God and so end up in the idolatry of worshipping themselves. By the way, one of the essentials of reformed theology is sin.  Specifically, the sin the reformers were concerned about was idolatry. Indeed, this stereotype is so old that Christians in the second century told the joke about how when Jesus released everyone from hell, the devil wept, until Jesus said, “don’t worry when the self-righteous start dying, the place will be filled up again.”

 What is really meant biblically by righteous is the harmony between faith and acts of daily living that are aligned with the consistent and normative actions of God, which promote wholeness, well being and life for everyone. Being righteous means integrating into a whole, complete self our inner spiritual life with our outer acts of living, reflecting God’s intentions for all humans and human communities as well as the rest of creation.

The first chapter of this new story is written in Jesus’ birth when the world through the Magi’s willingness to follow God’s sign of a star came to a manger to acknowledge Jesus is Lord of life. The second chapter began being written when Jesus rose from the waters and the Spirit of God rested upon him and God declared, “This is my Son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.” In this moment, we witness Jesus’ identity being clearly articulated publicly to everyone who was present on that day in the river, along the bank of the river and everyone who reads this gospel. But, that’s also when God claimed everyone who shares the waters of Christ, this water, to be God’s own beloved sons and daughters. Here is the moment when God says to all who share in this water, “You are God’s beloved child and you deserve love and respect because you are you, created in the image of God.” This is the moment our identity is clearly articulated publicly, in front of everyone present in the sanctuary of our baptism.

But, that isn’t all because in the aftermath of that moment Jesus goes out into the wilderness of temptation as the prelude to the daily living of who he is and what he is here to do as a righteous person that is spelled out in his actions and his words, most notably in Matthew chapters 5-7 or what we call the sermon on the mount. And, when Jesus calls disciples to “follow me” he is calling everyone whose identity is God’s beloved son or daughter to join in doing what he is doing because the second half of that identity piece is, “God will use me and you to change the world” by all of us being righteous persons joining in doing Missio Dei- the mission of God.

However, God won’t force us to be righteous persons, rather God invites and persuades us to choose to be righteous persons pursuing Missio-Dei. We need to actively choose to do this. It won’t happen by luck, by a series of fortuitous moments linked together, nor by us standing around complaining or whining about the state of the world or our lives. We must actively choose to do this. But here’s the thing to remember, every person, including all of us, has a life story they are writing, not only with words on paper, but through spoken words, actions, decisions, and all the experiences that come from our choices and we have the power to choose how our life story will turn out by choosing whether our inner spiritual life and our outer active life are an integrated whole.

Each one of us has the same power to choose today to trust God’s goodness, mercy, steadfast self-giving love and presence by serving God’s mission of restorative justice, of freeing those kept in bondage whether it is economic, lack of access to education, not having food sovereignty, lack of quality health care or tyrannical oppression, of valuing all life and seeking ways to nurture and promote an abundant life for all, of being the light that breaks through darkness, so other people may reach out for the light of God and in that light find the fullness and the life of shalom God desires for every person.

This will not guarantee that we will know exactly how our lives will go in each present moment because we are living our life as God’s beloved son or daughter joining God in changing the world day by day and writing our life story word by word, choice by choice and action by action and we may still experience pain, disease, sorrow \and suffering, but we will be able to live through those moments assured that God’s promises of life are for us and for our children and their children’s children. This confidence and strength comes to us in the simple, common water that Jesus transformed for all eternity into the grace that is always with us, all around us, bathing us in the life creating love of God.

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Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

All creation from the highest heaven to the deepest seas raises a chorus of praise for God. Brothers sun, wind and air, Sisters moon, stars, and water, rocks and the hills lift up a strong united voice singing praise to the Lord.  All you great diversity of people over the earth from the rich to the poor, the presidents and prime ministers to citizens who vote, farmers and factory workers to doctors and lawyers, men and women, adults and children raise your voices in songs of God’s praise.

The singer of this psalm invites, “All creation be partners in this song! Praise the Lord!” This invitation is an imperative cry. It is strong and exuberant and loud and demanding! It is a cry that cannot be ignored because there are more important things to do. It is a cry that demands not just a simple, “God is great. God is good.” singsong response or a whispering kind of “God is good.”

It is a cry demanding a strong, exuberant, joy filled, shouting, glad, demanding, happy, celebrating, clap your hands, stomp your feet, “God is good! All the time! God is good! All the time!” response. It is a cry to join in an act that is equally poetic and audacious as it is self-abandoning and subversive.

It is a cry that reminds creation that God took a deep, dark, formless void, a hajata tohu vohu, and brought order, light and shape to it. God took a place where life was not and was not possible, then created a place where life exists and where life not only flourishes, it is sustainable. God created by life by speaking life into being by God’s Word. Each day God spoke life, order, shape came into being. First light for day and dark for night. Second, oceans and sky. Third, dry land called earth. At the same time seas and oceans were given boundaries. Then, fruit trees and all other trees and green plants were brought to life. Fourth, sun in the sky for day and the moon and stars for night were given their reason for being. Together, their movements in the sky would be signs for days, weeks, years. For the changing seasons. Fifth, fish and all the other creatures living in the waters were given life. Then birds flying in the air receive life. Sixth, wild and domestic animals and all the creeping things receive life. Then, human kind, men and women, are created in God’s image and likeness and given their purpose. They are to be stewards of God’s creation by relating and exercising dominion of creation in the way God does; as a servant. Seventh, God rests. Creation is whole and complete, so God rests and by resting, God set within creation’s time God’s rhythm of work and rest.

Where there was only formlessness, God created a complex, highly textured, intricate woven tapestry of a dynamic, organic life containing within it the fingerprints of God’s creative touch from the largest mountains and deepest oceans to the minutest sub-atomic particles.

What also becomes clear in our remembrance of how God creates life is the relationship between humanity and land, people and place. Wendell Berry, poet and farmer, makes this point clear in his essay “Local Economies to Save the Land and the People,” when he writes, “we must not speak or think of the land alone or the people alone, but always and only both together. If we want to save the land, we must save the people who belong to the land. If we want to save the people, we must save the land the people belong to.” Berry continues to point out how the destructiveness of driving or encouraging people to leave the land in favor of an industrialized life of being consumers instead of being producers, where one has a “Job,” but not a vocational calling or a vocational choice is destroying local communities and local economies. Because,  when a people move to find the “job” to earn the money to buy what one does not produce, they fail to live in a community of mutual usefulness. That place where small store owners know their patrons, skilled craftsman are known by the quality of their work and where farmers grow crops for subsistence and for sale locally because people live in their home counties where they not only know the people going back  generations, but also know the names of all the trees in the forests near them. People were rooted to the land and to the people. Industrialization in all of its forms creates “jobs,” but it also creates the destruction of mutually useful and mutually supportive communities by making people able to be exploited by corporations with wealth and power or to be discarded when the “job” the economy falters or when a machine can perform their jobs.

In our remembrance of how God creates life and how the industrialization of life prompts the need to save both people and the creation in order to save the fragile relationships of mutuality inherent in both, we hear the psalmist’s imperative cry to “Praise the Lord!” as more than a call to exclaim and celebrate our wonderment and awe at God’s creative act. Rather, his loud and demanding cry calls us to speak about God. To describe how our ancestors and we have experienced God’s presence as the key to living into our future.

We speak about God by telling what God has done. We speak about creation because it tells us that God seeks relationships of mutuality defined best by Martin Luther King, Jr. as ”I can never fully be who I ought to be unless you are fully who you are to be.”

We speak about God’s call to Abram, the giving of a child to Sarah and Abram in their old age, the deliverance of the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt, the Hebrews being brought to the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because they tell us that God keeps God’s promises and God’s promises are about life.

We speak about the Hebrews being fed manna and quail and water in the desert, God sending prophet after prophet to the people Israel, the bringing of Israel out of exile and back to the promised land, the promise of a Messiah bringing justice and peace because they tell us that God is faithful to the relationship with us despite our unfaithfulness.

We speak about God coming to be with us in the midst of creation as a child born in the humblest and unexpected of places, of the healing ministry of Jesus the Christ, of the self-giving love Jesus lived in his relationships with other persons and taught us was God’s way, of Jesus’ willingness to die on a cross for our sakes, of Jesus’ resurrection and the hope it brings into our lives because they tell us God is merciful and forgiving, seeking to reconcile our broken relationship with God by doing for us what we could never do for ourselves-namely bearing the burden and the consequences of the guilt and shame of our sins that break apart all our relationships. And doing this because God loves us with a love that is the full expression of mutuality. A love we can never be separated from no matter the place, time, or circumstance because not even death can separate us from God’s love.

We speak about how God spoke through an angel to Joseph telling him to get up and take his family to Egypt, so they will be safe and far away from Herod’s murder of thousands of innocent children, about how when we felt confused and lost the Holy Spirit led us out of our confusion to the place we belonged, about the time we were alone and weeping tears of grief and God sat beside us and rocked us in God’s loving embrace because in speaking about these times we witness that God is present to protect us, to lead us, to comfort us, to touch us, and to transform our lives by God’s grace and power.

Our exuberant, shouting, celebrating, songs of praise speak of God’s presence, God’s reliability, God’s steadfast and self-giving love, God’s mercy and faithfulness. Yet, these songs of praise also tell us about ourselves.

We use poetic words and metaphorical phrasings in these songs of praise that evoke for us images of God, that generate and suggest to us concrete ways of understanding who God is-the mother that rocks a crying child to sleep in her lap, a mighty fortress strong and able to keep us safe within protective walls, a confidante who walks and talks with us. Yet, these same poetic words and metaphorical phrasings always resist every closed meaning or attempt to put God in a box to be controlled or manipulated. These poetic words of praise are so open to many meanings and ambiguity they leave wide latitude for us, who sing these words to accept and affirm a different version of reality than the one popular culture affirms. For as Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor reminds us, “If we eventually become the way we talk, if reality sooner or later follows speech than our utterance of praise may eventually wean us from our memo-shaped mastery-our 30 second sound byte shaped world, so we may fully live in the world God created.

Just as our poetic words and metaphorical phrasings open us to the full reality of God’s kingdom, our act of praise is an audacious act because we seek to show how great and significant God is. How prominent God is in our lives. We dare to do this act of praise as though we are giving something to God that God needs or desires until we are met in moment of our praise with the surprising gift of illumination; our relationship with God is refined and deepened. We realize our praise arises out of an intimate communion with the One who is wholly reliable, who is so fully present with us, who loves us so dearly that in this moment of praise singing we give ourselves completely and unreservedly to God as an act of joyful gratitude for all the goodness of life.

We abandon ourselves to God in gratitude and gladly celebrate the Lord’s claim on our whole lives. Here our praise is subversive because we say there are no other gods, kings, or loyalties who can give us gifts, who have benefits to bestow, no summons to make, and no allegiance to claim. They are massively and forcefully dismissed. Every other loyalty that would put a hedge of vested interest between God and us is critiqued and dismissed in our song of praise.

There is only one Lord of the universe, we sing. God alone is sovereign of our lives. And, this sovereignty is embodied in the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh embodying the reign of God in the ministry of a suffering servant who creates and renews life for us and for the whole of creation just as God created life by God’s Word in the beginning.

Halleu Adonai! Praise Christ the Lord!

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When I was about seven, I was busily writing the “Further Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” stories, which my sister illustrated with crayon drawings. We’d sell our books on the sidewalk to whomever passed by us. Most children had a lemonade stand; I had a small publishing enterprise. Grown-ups would stop to look at the books and they would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I said, “I want to write stories and I want to tell stories.” They would say, “That’s nice.”

When I was twelve they began saying to me, “That’s a nice dream, but it’s too hard making a living writing stories” then off they’d go with a barrage of facts, making writing stories sound like an utterly ridiculous goal.

Invariably, they finished up by saying, “It’s nice to have big dreams, but you need to face the facts of life. You need to get a real job with a real income like everybody else. This is, after all, the 20th Century.”

The way they said it made it sound as if the mere fact of living in that century settled the issue for all time.  It was as though they agreed with Clifton Fadiman’s statement, “All of life is an earnest search for the right manila folder in which we get filed away.”  As if they lived in the grip of fatalism that believes everything is as it has always been and forever will be. As though life proceeds like clockwork. As if something need to have happened only a couple of times in the past three years for our minds to declare it “inevitable” and “irrevocable.” As if a leaf is green because it could be nothing else. The poor are poor because they are poor. Everything is as it is due to routine, predictability, and given enough time and government research grants, everything shall be explained and demystified.

“The world is as it is. It can’t be changed,” they seemed to be saying.

Yet, when I hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “And a child shall lead them” I wonder why will it be that a child shall lead humanity into the incredible beauty of God’s vision for our lives that is poetically described by Isaiah? After all, children in the ancient near east and even today are among the most vulnerable and least powerful persons in a community. On their own, children do not create legislation, pass laws, or even have their voice taken seriously by those who do make laws. They depend upon others to keep them safe and provide for them. They depend upon adult leaders to lead them into lives of creativity and vitality.

On their own, children are often unable or at the very least find it difficult to protect themselves or their interests.  Just look at the news reports and magazine articles about child labor in India, Pakistan and throughout South Asia, not to mention the plight of children in refugee camps in Turkey, or the young girls sold as brides to men old enough to be their grandfathers.

So, why does God tell us through the prophet Isaiah, in God’s peaceable kingdom a child will be the leader?  What is it about a child that will make them the best choice for leadership?

Well, take a look at the painting of the peaceable kingdom. What is it that adults see? Do you see all the animals just hanging out together, predators and prey standing next to each other? Do you see their faces and do you detect the smiles on their faces as if the painter Edward Hicks said, “Now, everyone say cheese?”  Do you wonder why it is that they are smiling? Is it because the prey is no longer fearful? Or maybe they are calm because they are in a forest with such an abundance of water and plants to eat, that hunger isn’t an issue for any of the animals, so the predators have decided it’s good to be a vegan. Do you see the children in the painting? Why are they the age the painter has depicted? And, did you notice that one is a male and one is a female? Do you see the angel? Can you see far into the background and see William Penn, the Quaker, affirming a peace treaty with Delaware tribe? Yet, what does this have to do with the peaceable kingdom and Isaiah 11?

Well, let’s think about it through the eyes of a child. What does a child sees in this painting? Does the child see the peaceable kingdom as perhaps really the Garden of Eden? I wonder if children would see the picture divided between the animals’ peaceable kingdom and the humans’ peaceable kingdom? I wonder if children might see more than we see?

Several years ago, Tina and I and two of our children went to see the movie August Rush. It is a marvelous movie not only for the music that runs like a thread throughout the story connecting each of the people together and drawing them together, but also for the story of a young not quite twelve year old boy who hears music in all the sounds of the world around him whether he is standing in the middle of a corn field as the wind blows the stalks in amazing swirling and flowing patterns or he is standing in the middle of New York City listening to music being created by the interplay of car engines, horns, shoes scrapping across pavement, water bubbling in a fountain, and people’s voices echoing in the air of the city. Each of these is its own symphony playing notes of music that is his life, which is seeking the music of his long lost mother and father’s lives, so they might be reunited and made whole.

While no one believes him or understands him, the boy refuses to give up on this vision and he finds imaginative ways to make the music of his life spread far out into New York City knowing that his mother and father will hear it and be drawn to him.

Perhaps, that is the reason God chooses a child to lead humanity to the peaceable kingdom. Maybe, it is because children see life as amazing. A child makes no rigid distinction between the tales of wizards and fairies and the tales of historians. As G. K. Chesterton notes, there was a reason why Cinderella was younger than her ugly sisters. “A child“ ,he writes, ”of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened the door and saw a dragon.”

I think this is the reason children picked up Harry Potter books and couldn’t put them down.  I think they became enmeshed and awed to wonder by a world that is beyond our predictable, everyday routine. Where there are brooms to ride in games played high above our heads, invisibility cloaks and maps that show people moving about a castle school where the pictures talk to you. At least, I know this is why I couldn’t put them down and will be re-reading them for years to come. The Harry Potter books and books about knights of the round tables, princes and princesses and others like them invite us to open our minds and imagine there is more to life than what we see.

In imaginative literature, music, plays and art, we are invited to look beyond the surface of life and see that a leaf is green for a reason that has nothing to do with rational science.

In many ways, Isaiah is, also, reminding us to look beyond the surface of this life to see that a leaf is green because God meant it to be. Every leaf that is green or red or yellow and not beige is so because of God’s choice. The world is something, which has been meant, designed, brought into being by God’s choice. And, it is here for our wonder, our surprise and our enjoyment. Even the repetition of cycles and routines is meant more for us to wonder about than to see them as dull and pointless. Maybe, we are supposed to be looking at the grass as a signal to us. Maybe the stars are trying to get us to understand some message they have for us, maybe the rising of the sun each day is making a point we will discover only if we pay close attention to it.

Perhaps, the point it is making is that God has chosen the order of the world and the repetition within creation as a way to speak to us about its vitality and health. Like the child who laughs at a joke and says, “daddy tell it again and again and again. Or, like the child who falls in love with swinging on a swing and says, “Mommy, do it again. Do it again!” I wonder if God says to the irises each spring and apples and oranges “do it again. Do it again.” So, we might wonder at the continual renewal of life and be surprised at the first blooms of flowers popping up from the ground, reminding us how God creates life anew each day.

Maybe, the shoot that springs forth from the tree stump is God’s way of reminding us that God is the God of green life. That God is the one who brings forth greenness when we have felt as if we were dry as summer dust. Hildegard of Bingen wrote in the 12th Century about the veriditas or the greening, healing power of God. “God through Christ is bringing the healing and lush greenness of God’s kingdom to a shriveled and wilted humanity.” Even, Paul’s word to the Roman church in chapter 15:13 of his epistle might be translated as Eugene Peterson has, “Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

Maybe we need a child to lead us in becoming children, so we might see the new heaven and new earth, which is not fully our present heaven and earth, coming into being as God intends it to come into being with a shoot coming out from the stump of Jesse and a wolf living with a lamb, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a child leading us to hear God’s music of life creating the symphony which draws all people and creation together into God’s peaceable kingdom.

I pray this may be your vision and your hope for this Advent and Christmas, as surely as it is mine.

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“Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30.)

As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”

These statements from the Theological Declaration of Barmen affirmed that Christ is King of our whole life. In doing so, they rejected the white supremacy, anti-Semitism and authoritarianism of Nazi regime that sought to take over the German Evangelical Federation of reformed churches and pronounce Adolf Hitler not simply the leader of the government, but head of the church supplanting Jesus Christ and declaring himself God.

The more than 100 pastors who signed this declaration in the town of Barmen, Germany and who went to their churches and preached this the next Sunday did so fully aware that they would be arrested and put into concentration camps, which they all were and where nearly all of them died.

Declaring Jesus Christ as Lord of the entirety of our lives, is a bold and profound statement of faith affirming that every aspect of our lives is evaluated from the basis of our being faithful followers of Jesus Christ. No ideology, no political party, no philosophical understanding, no Ann Rynd, no economic theory, no government or contemporary cultural movement replaces our commitment and obedience to God in Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, for in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible whether of thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers-all things have been created through Jesus and in him all things hold together. This does not make it easy or convenient to be a follower of Christ.

For one thing, we will be challenged to live fully the love ethic of loving God with the totality of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies, but at the same time we are called to stand with those who are the most vulnerable in our society to being bullied, to being oppressed, to being abused whether through words, emotional abuse or violence. We are challenged to be like the peacemakers who were trained to accompany Christian mission co-workers in places like Columbia and Iraq as they taught people how to read, to write, and to learn skilled trades like carpentry, plumbing or farming as well sharing the gospel, except we may be doing this in or own communities with Muslim brothers and sisters or Jewish brothers and sisters as well as migrant workers, the LGBTQ community and immigrant communities.

After World War II, one of the pastors who was present at writing of the Barmen declaration, Martin Niemoller, wrote this, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

It is the reminder that followers of Christ must be as publicly present and vocal in teaching and living the gospel as Jesus was when he sat with lepers, prostitutes, radicals, tax collectors and other people society labeled outcasts.

In this public presence, we are challenged to speak up as hate surfaces more and more. Since the election over 10,000 acts of hate have occurred ranging from signs of swastikas to words saying kill the Jews, Muslims, Latinos and African Americans appearing on dorm rooms, automobiles, public buildings and throughout social media, to a Muslim woman being robbed, to Hispanic and African American teachers at a New Jersey school being told by students that they didn’t have to listen to them anymore because those teachers would be gone soon; to the FBI releasing information that there was a 65% rise in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, to the announcement that a White House advisor to Trump is Steve Bannon the one who gives voice to white supremacists and anti-Semitics to Kellyanne Conway of the Trump campaign threatening U. S. Senator Harry Reid for speaking out against Trump.

As the Theological Declaration of Barmen reminds us when we are speaking out against hate we are to be “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together,” as Paul wrote to the house churches of Ephesus. “The Christian Church,” the Barmen declaration states, “is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it hasto testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order and that it lives and wants to live solely from God’s comfort and from Jesus’ direction in the expectation of his appearance.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.”

We are challenged to affirm that in Christ all false barriers separating us from other people have been broken down as Paul reminds us, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, nor male or female, for all are one in Christ,” all are one humanity and no one is to be excluded or denied their humanity. All the ways humans devise to create stratified societies are acts of sinfulness whether it is of elites and ordinary folks or wealthy and poor communities or creating societies based upon some lives mattering more than other lives because of an ingrained, cultural myth of superiority and inferiority or because some are considered chosen and some condemned or some deemed civilized and others uncivilized, since Jesus frequently crossed social boundaries to heal and to bring into the community those relegated to the margins, affirming by his actions that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and all are to be treated with respect.

We are to do all of this while knowing we are God’s beloved and clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience as well as bearing with one another in relationships where forgiveness is given and every aspect of our community life together is wrapped in self-giving love, which binds everything together in a harmony yielding peace.

We do this way because the one we declare to be Lord of our life is the one who is a total reversal of the roles usually assigned to royalty, leadership and servitude. He refuses to be the master of the world, the mighty monarch, the spiller of blood. His reign subverts our notion of kings, presidents and leaders. He is the king who serves the other. He is the president who dies for the other. He is the leader who is ridiculed, scorned, and mocked. Most insufferable, most repugnant of all, is the fact that he is a powerless sovereign, president, leader. Dying on his cross-throne, Jesus is thrice taunted for the fact that he does not save himself. “You a savior?” they jeer. “Then save yourself.” Soldiers with their sour wine chide, “Aren’t you a real king? Save yourself.” Even a criminal scolds: “I thought you were supposed to be a Messiah. Prove it.”

Jesus is so thoroughly unlike any notion we have of kings, presidents or leaders because he disavows armies, offers himself without self-defense, does not seek power or to rule over people by domination and intimidation, and he refuses to use or condone force and violence, even against his enemies. Indeed, his word from the cross to those who oppose him, reject him, mock him, and crucify him is simply, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Christ is the king who appears weak in the face of the powerful and accepts the humiliation of being whipped and spat upon as well as the humiliating death on a cross. Christ is the leader who is utterly innocent and yet completely accepts the appearances of utter guilt.

One of the criminals crucified with him embraced this startling truth—and he was saved. “We deserve it after all.” He said, “We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Later, when the same criminal asks, “Jesus, remember me,” Jesus responds, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” In his response to the criminal Jesus reveals himself to be the king who is full of mercy and uses his power to save others.  Which is what he did throughout his life whether feeding five thousand people in the wilderness or raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus uses his power to save others. He doesn’t use it to save himself.

The kingship or presidential presence of Christ is not about power, certainly not the political or juridical power to “save yourself and us” from the ignominy of crucifixion. But, ironically, his power to save is revealed as he tells the criminal, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” All of this makes Christ’s kingship an abomination for any earthly royal or political power aspiration, since it is an assault upon the desires of every tribe or nation that ever craved ascendancy or empire. Which ought to give us pause because we live at a time when many nations and people are seeking ascendancy or at least hegemony, when power and wealth are the basis for celebration throughout the world, and when saving ourselves at all costs is acceptable, using whatever means are available, even if it destroys the lives of others.

René Girard, professor of language and culture at Stanford University, is a rare contemporary thinker who confronts the implications of Christian faith. In his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard shows how Christ dismantles the triangle of desire, violence, and retribution. He writes that, “In Christ there is no envy, greed, no lust for power, and no vengeance. Christ is the only sovereign to embody such principles.”

Girard continues by saying, “It can be shown, I believe, that there is not a single action or word attributed to Jesus –even those that seem harshest at first sight-that is not consistent with the rule of [God’s] Kingdom. It is absolute fidelity to his own preaching that condemns Jesus. There is no cause for his death other than the love of one’s neighbor lived to the very end.  He goes on to say that when we acknowledge Christ as God and king we accept his reversal of everything that dominates humanity.

We accept the challenges and the inconvenience of being a follower of Christ, walking down the same stony path he trod, being willing to lose our lives, giving up being centered in ourselves and picking up the cross leading to the fullness of joy and the deep peace of God’s love for us and all humanity as we too love our neighbor to the very end. Amen.

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Darkness falls fast in these autumn days and we know the darkness will continue to grow in the days ahead of us as we venture into the cold days and nights of winter. Yet, many people feel darkness has been falling upon them for longer than a season. Whether it is the news of the high infant mortality rate of Rochester, the continuing struggle to solve the education issues plaguing city schools, the rise in the suicide rate of middle age white males and veterans or the year-long election cycle that has been filled with hatred spewing forth on a daily basis with threats of jailing political opponents and deporting millions of people, scandal after scandal in a drip-drip-drip leaking of documents by a group caught in their own brand of self-righteousness or encouraging violence against people who are different as the answer to the frustration and despair of an economic prosperity that has become nearly unreachable for many people in this country regardless of skin color or ethnicity as has the myth of an American Dream created out of a model of unending consumerism fueled as Wendell Berry writes by a commerce of violence, or voter suppression by the government or public institutions being assailed as useless and cracked cisterns incapable of holding water let alone our society; all have contributed to the weariness and darkness many have experienced and may experience as fear of the future imprisons people.

This darkness seems to deepen with the images Jesus describes for his followers in this morning’s reading from Luke. The image of armies surrounding us, the need to become refugees to escape the violence of war, being hated because we are followers of Christ, the woe to women who are pregnant or who are new mothers, the enslavement of one people by another people, even creation will shake, rattle and roll as the Jerusalem Temple is destroyed.

Yet, all of us gathered in our own community of faith like gatherings of other communities of faith in Irondequoit, Rochester, New York State, America, The Northern Hemisphere and around the world know the darkness will be driven away by the light. Darkness, hate, despair, fear and hopelessness cannot overwhelm and imprison us because God’s light will not allow it to do so. This is the starting place of joy and hope that dispels fear because God promises to be doing an entirely and completely “new thing” that will not resemble the old or grow out from the old.

This is the promise uttered by the prophets and the psalmists, particularly during Israel’s exile when the promise from God was that even exile will be transformed into a viable place for life. This promise as Walter Brueggemann wrote in his book “Theology of the Old Testament  “which defies every logic, but which could not be devised by those who reiterated the oath, assures Israel that its life and eventually all of the historical process, is not a cold, hard enactment of power and brutality.” Rather, it is God’s powerful intention for well-being, abundance, justice and compassion to bring into reality a newness of life that cannot be extrapolated from the present, but is an utterly new life. The words of God the prophet Isaiah speaks tell of God’s promise to overcome all that is amiss whether caused by Israel’s disobedience or the untamed forces of fear and death. The newness of God’s new creation will touch every aspect and phase of life as every portion of life is re-created by the positive, life giving power of God’s love enacting wholeness, abundance and restorative justice for all human communities as hostilities at every level and in every dimension of creation will be overcome. In this extraordinary new creation the light of God’s love will drive out fear and darkness.

Perhaps this is the reason doctors without borders and nurses without borders risk their lives to tend to the wounds and disease of patients in places where medical services and medicines themselves are in short supply, but too often where the violence of war is abundant. Perhaps this is the reason for the Red Cross to bring food, clothing, toiletries and blankets to places like Haiti and Syria and Louisiana. Perhaps this is the reason why Hope Fellowship travels to re-build homes and communities in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Perhaps this is the reason why our mission team travels to communities to repair, re-build homes and lives each year. Perhaps this is the reason why the community garden has nearly doubled in size and may grow larger next year. Could it be they want to live in a world where babies are not born for sudden death, but live long full lives; where no more shall the sound of weeping or cry of distress be heard in the world because of hunger, disease or violence; where an adult lives a long full life filled with meaning and where people shall build houses to live within and will plant vineyards and vegetable gardens, whose produce the gardeners will eat and enjoy because no one will take it from them or force them to work for those who oppress them; where the shalom-the peace of predator prey living together in harmony and where violence no longer exists?

Could it be that the hope of God’s new heaven and new earth where peoples, habitations and nature are all woven into a complex relationship of wholeness has been heard as an invitation to take part in God’s creative transforming mission-Missio Dei- to the world? Could it be that when they have heard the prophet Isaiah proclaiming God’s intention to create an entirely new world where heaven and earth are to be one unified creation they were reminded of God’s creative capacity to create life anew because God’s creative word speaks a vision that comes to realization. This Missio Dei vision of a new heaven and new earth does not come out of nothing not does it come out of the ashes of a destroyed creation, rather it is the creation out of the chaos of human endeavors, of a spoiled and polluted nature and of everything in between. In this Mission Dei, God is transforming creation so thoroughly that the former things will not be remembered and will no longer influence or effect the present or the future.

Imagine a totally new beginning for Irondequoit and Rochester where everyone has a place to live in safe and decent homes, where everyone can freely move about without fear of violence or the fear of driving through dangerous neighborhoods, where a person isn’t stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin or because they fit a certain profile, where no one is a stranger and where everyone has meaningful work and a living wage. Imagine buying your home and knowing you can keep it forever – no one threatening to take it from you because they want it, or because you’ve been laid off, or made redundant, or had your job shipped overseas. People can breathe again – really breathe – without fear that life will be snatched away from them.

Last year, I asked you to imagine this congregation being a totally new congregation, designing and planning its organization in new ways, finding new ways of getting things done,  discerning new ways for us to worship God, designing a new way of welcoming visitors by first getting to know them as friends, and discerning the way we reach out into the wider community around us based solely on Missio Dei-God’s creative transforming vision of a new heaven and new earth. Letting the past be the past without any power to control, determine or define the future. Letting go of all the ways we compare ourselves to other congregations because we are focusing on being authentically who we are. Letting go of the old paradigms and schemes for growing the church by focusing our life together on God’s mission for this community and for the world.

I challenged you to join the Israelites who came back to Judah from Babylonian exile and respond to your situation the way they did as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Their response was to rebuild the city and the Temple and to rebuild their community by once again committing themselves to centering their lives in God and God’s way of being a community where well-being, health, and growing and sustaining life was for every person. This is the hope contained within the promise of God’s new heaven and new earth, a hope inviting people to live today in God’s new heaven and new earth.

Interestingly enough,  this is the invitation to living the golden rule “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and being mindful that the yardstick by which we measure others will be yardstick by which we ourselves will be judged. Both of these are simply calls to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is the hope of the sacredness of life at every moment of life, of welcoming the stranger either the migrant or the refugee as sisters and brothers whose desire for a life of stability, of health and well-being and peace is the same as our own, of ending poverty and the immorality of homelessness, of encouraging all people to dream the vision of God’s new heaven and new earth then act on that vision.

We have made good beginnings in meeting this challenge of participating in God’s mission to the world through the continued support of the mission team, the Live Nativity teaching the real story of Christmas that is the birth of Christ coming as a gift to us of God’s love, the expansion of the community garden that grows community by growing relationships, the prayer windsocks and prayer shawls, the new opportunities of joining with other Presbyterian churches by using a $50,000 grant to change lives in metropolitan Rochester as well as the Love Thy Neighbor project.

While God will bring this new heaven and new earth to fullness as Jesus taught us that God will do, the call to be Christ’s body here in this place at this time challenges us to fully participate in Mission Dei- God’s creative transformation of the world, it challenges us to consider how to best use our increased financial and human resources in reaching out beyond ourselves into the community of Irondequoit and Rochester and the world, so whatever we do reflects God’s expansive and inclusive will for the world and not our limited vision of what is possible, challenges us to be an entirely new Summerville Presbyterian Church focused on creatively thriving knowing that as Paul reminds us that if God is for us, which God is, who can be against us, who can hold us back from living in God’s new heaven and new earth today? No one.

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Zacchaeus is a peculiar person to be the hero of a biblical story. He is short in stature, is blocked and barricaded from seeing Jesus until he climbs a tree and he is the chief tax collector for the Romans in Jericho, which means he is one of biggest crooks around and he is also one of most lost to God in Jericho. He is a most peculiar man as the song goes.

Except, he is right up there with all the other peculiar characters as Frederick Buechner, theologian and pastor, has pointed out, “There’s Aaron whooping it up with the Golden Calf the moment his brother’s back is turned, and there’s Jacob conning everybody including his own father. There’s Rahab, one of the first spies for the people Israel. There’s Nebuchadnezzar with his taste for roasting the opposition, and Paul holding the lynch mob’s coats as they go to work on Stephen. There’s Saul the paranoid, and David who thought he was a gift to the ladies, and those mealy-mouthed friends of Job’s who would probably have succeeded in boring him to death if Yahweh hadn’t stepped in just in the nick of time. And then there are the ones who betrayed the people who loved them best such as Absalom and poor old Peter, and Judas even.”

Yet, Jesus sees him in the tree and tells him to get down, so they can go to Zacchaeus’ home, eat dinner and hang out because Zacchaeus is both a son of Abraham belonging to the community of Israel and one of the lost people Jesus has come to seek and save and bring back into the community just like the lost sheep found and brought back to the flock, the lost coin frantically sought until found and put in the jar with the rest of coins or even the child who leaves home and comes back home to re-group and find the path to a life of well-being and meaningfulness. He is as Jesus pronounced the very person he was seeking, announcing to the crowd and the world that salvation has come to this house after Zacchaeus announces he is giving away half of his wealth to the poor and will repay four times the amount to anyone he has cheated.

Now usually when we tell this story and talk about this story, we say it is a story about Jesus’ transforming Zacchaeus from being a crooked tax collector to being a disciple of Jesus whose repentance is proven by his willingness to give away his wealth and be reconciled to the people he has cheated by repaying them four times what he took from them. It is in short a classic story of forgiveness and repentance followed by actions that confirms repentance and the journey toward following Jesus. However, that may not be an accurate reading of the story because of the way translators have rendered the Greek verb. Without getting deep in the weeds of Greek grammar and obscure, mind numbing theological hair splitting, essentially the conflict is whether the verb is a statement about an action happening in the future as in “I will give” or whether it is a statement about what is happening in the present as in “I give.” Is Zacchaeus responding to Jesus’ recognition and affirmation of him as belonging to the community of God’s people or is Jesus affirming the repentance and turning toward God Zacchaeus is already doing, but that no one around him notices until Jesus sees him, calls him, affirms him and pronounces salvation has come to this house?

While my own study and translation leads me to believe Zacchaeus is already giving away his wealth and reconciling himself with those he treated unfairly, but is still lost because no one except God notices his turning toward God, what interests me more is the effect his actions will have on the community. How will giving away half his wealth to the poor change their lives and the life of the community? How will his reconciling with those he treated unjustly by repaying them four times the amount he cheated from them have on those people? How do they react? What is the positive outcome for their lives? What is the positive outcome for the whole Jericho community?

Too often, we focus and celebrate the individual biblical character whose life is transformed and create an entire theological paradigm from their story without recognizing that their transformation impacts and affects their entire community. Zacchaeus receives the grace of salvation, but so does every member of his household from his family to his servants. Not only is he found, but so are they. Not only are they effected and influenced by the grace he receives, so is everyone with whom they are in a relationship. Zacchaeus and his family and the poor of his community do not live in isolated vacuums, but are part of a complex, integrated eco-system of life where every portion of the eco-system impacts and influences every other portion of the eco-system in the same way that actions by one person in a family effects and influences every other member of the family as I am certain we have all experienced or witnessed happening. When my father died I was effected, my brothers and sisters, our families were impacted by his death, but also the family from whom he was renting his apartment was effected because they lived in a house next to the apartment and they and their children often visited my father and invited him to dinner. In addition, his friends, his colleagues at the ACLU who worked with him writing legal briefs, the doctors and nurses who treated him and came to see him at his home, and the Veterans Administration volunteers who drove him to his appointments and to the grocery store were all effected by his death. This is the point Frank Capra is making in his wonderful movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” that will be broadcast during Advent and Christmas. We are all connected to each other whether we always feel the connection or understand the depth and breadth of our connections within families, congregations, or local and global communities.

This is the reason why what we do or what we fail to do becomes so significant even if we do not directly experience the outcomes. It is the reason a largely unknown prophet like Habakkuk living in the 5th century BCE just as the Babylonian empire is rising when the Babylonian army pushes the Egyptian army out of Carchemish into southern Palestine toward Egypt, which is the prelude to Babylon’s conquest of Judah, teaches us a lesson about faith and acting in faithfulness, steadfastness and fidelity.

Habakkuk is another one of those peculiar people, who dare like Job to  faithfully to raise heavily ironic, almost sarcastic, questions about God’s work in the world. He voices a prayer out of the depths of his fidelity to God’s covenantal life that could be sung by any person who faithfully calls out in earnestness for God but has felt God was absent, distant or just plain silent.The same silence of God at the root of the most significant theological concern of the mid-20th century questioning why was God seemingly “silent” when six million Jews went to their death in Nazi concentration camps, seemingly “silent” when ten million Christians, gypsies, political prisoners, mentally ill, homosexuals, and developmentally disabled persons went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps? Why was God seemingly silent during the Armenian genocide, seemingly silent when African-Americans were being lynched in the South with photographs used to prove the terror of the KKK, silent during the genocides in Serbia, Ukraine, Rwanda, Darfur and now in Syria ?

Into this silence of God Habakkuk complains, then waits for God to answer. Of course, God responds by telling the prophet to write the vision God is telling him in plain, large letters, so that someone running nearby can see it, read it, and cling to it. The sign the prophet will write declares that God is going to change the Israelites’ situation. That God is not silent, is never silent. Then, Habakkuk is told that the word from God “does not lie.” It is a truthful word. Yet, he is also told to wait for the “vision” to come in its appointed time. It may seem to tarry but it will come. Don’t lose heart, God says. God will not long delay. Remember, God says, “The righteous live by their faith.”

Now,  the idea that the righteous live by their faith sounds pretty simplistic. Yet, when you think about the Hebrew word translated “faith” is  meaning trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, and fidelity it seems the perfect antidote to wondering what God is doing or not doing, to feeling overwhelmed by present circumstances, or being discouraged because we aren’t seeing the positive outcomes of our actions and no one else is noticing what we are doing either.

This faith is not solely the ability to trustingly persevere. Rather, it is persevering with the certain knowledge that God reaches out, seeks and searches for all who are lost like Zacchaeus, all who are outcast and all who are tired and suffering to bring them into a restored community, to tell them they are beloved of God and deserved to be treated that way and to create a new future for all people. It is persevering with the certain knowledge that God will bring the promised vision of justice, of peace, of a transformed future to reality. It is persevering in the certain knowledge God’s salvation is for everyone.

As Hebrew 11 reminds us faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is the ability to step out in trust like Abraham and Sarah and faithfully live toward the promises God makes. That first step of Abraham and Sarah’s to leave their homeland behind for a new place is the act of faith in God. David’s first step into the battle with Goliath is the act of faith in God. It is Zacchaeus giving back all the ill-gotten wealth he had taken from the people is an act of faith. Peter’s stepping over the side of the boat in the middle of the sea is for certain an act of faith. Martin Luther’s banging his 95 demands for the church to reform itself on the Wittenberg Church door and preaching grace alone as the key to salvation is an act of faith. John Calvin’s picking up the mantle of reform in Switzerland bringing the watchwords grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone to Geneva that is an act of faith that led the people of Geneva to live their faith by establishing public education and sewers and clean water supplies for all people.

Faith is the act of speaking the truth like Habakkuk did even when everyone tells you to sit down and be quiet then threatens your life if you don’t. It is to live by acting in the present moment to faithfully follow God’s way laid out before us by Jesus, the apostles, and all the saints who came before us without worrying about inconvenience, irrelevance, being tempted into thinking we have better things to do, or wondering if we are being effective. It is to live in fidelity to God’s vision for the world, even when people denigrate you, mock you, or tell you “thanks but we’d rather do it our way.”  It is to live steadfastly holding onto God’s promises and living your life based upon those promises whether anyone is with you or not, whether anyone joins you for worship or not or adult forums and Sunday school or not.  It is living in the present moment and doing, as Professor Tom Long writes, all “the spunky sacred deeds,” that have always started wild fires of transformation in our world.

Mahatma Gandhi knew it well when he said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want the world to reflect more faithfulness and justice, then you need to demonstrate it in your life by doing acts of kindness and justice, by being faithful and firmly committed to participating in God’s vision for the world. As Mother Teresa wrote:  “Be a living expression of God’s kindness, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your face, kindness in your warm greeting, kindness in your hospitality to other people, kindness to children, to the poor, to all who suffer and are lonely. Give them not only your care, your food, your treasure, but also give them your heart and your actions. And remember, People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered, – but love them anyway. Remember, if you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives -Do good anyway. Honesty and frankness make you weak and vulnerable – Be honest and frank anyway. What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight – build anyway. People do need help but may attack you if you help them, – help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth – Give the world your best anyway. Because it is not between you and them, it is between you and God and God already knows that we are living faithful, steadfast lives and will comes to us saying, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased and salvation has come to this house.” Amen.

 

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