Reflection for February 1, 2015

 Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

I.

No one wants to talk about authority these days. We especially prize freedom, and we proclaim our right to be free from constraints of all sorts. It is bad to be considered authoritarian. In our age of contextual relativity, we prefer no hard lines. Rules are meant to be bent. Everything is cool.

And yet one of the most pressing human questions is, “What should I do?” Day after day we face one decision after another, some of them small, some of them large. What should I do in my daily habits, in my finances, in my relationships, in politics, as a parent, as a care giver?

“What should I do?” brings us face to face with moral authority.  In times of relativity, real moral authority is hard to find.  Now authority is not the ability to control other people or events. That is power. Authority comes from the word author. It is getting grounded again in basic principles so that we can make the decisions we need and then act on them both alone and in groups. It is becoming connected again with the author of life. And it equips a person authoring her life one chapter at a time.

The readings today take us into the nature of such moral authority. The first and third readings suggest approaches to authority. I’d like to spend some time with those. Then the second reading provides a test case using authority to make a decision.

II.

Let’s begin with the third reading from Mark. This reading begins Jesus’ ministry with healing. But notice that the reading quickly focuses the attention of the reader on the question of authority. Authority in the community of Mark has become something different than in the Jewish synagogue where the congregation probably started.

A couple of things might be said about the ancient congregation responsible for Mark. It was an urban congregation in a large city in the Roman Empire, perhaps Rome itself. Life is intense and fast. Things happen immediately. It began in the Jewish synagogue, but moved beyond that space fairly quickly as it embraced more and more gentiles.

The congregation focused on caring for the sick, something that was rarely done in Roman cities. The sick were abandoned for fear of contagion. But caring for the sick or healing is a priority in this particular urban congregation just as shelter work and emergency relief is our priority at St. Johns.

The building housing the congregation probably looked more like a field hospital rather than a church with sick people everywhere being cared for in every available corner. The church was perhaps overwhelmed by the needs of the sick and did not want to broadly advertise what they did, sometimes being even secretive about their healing center.

So these people remember Jesus primarily as a healer. In the book of Mark in the thirteen chapters it takes to get to his last week of life, there are seventeen healing encounters. Every time you turn around Jesus is healing. By contrast, in Luke, written later, there are still sixteen or seventeen healing encounters, but it takes twenty-one chapters to cover the same ground. Jesus becomes much more of a story teller and teacher. That’s even more the case in Matthew who also has about sixteen or seventeen healing encounters. But now there are almost twice as many chapters as Mark. Jesus has long sermons and complex arguments with his opponents. And in John there are only four healing encounters and Jesus just talks on and on. But in Mark, in this version of the life of Jesus, he is primarily one who heals. Healing is important to these people.

We know that when people are sick, if they are cared for, they are more likely to recover. Care, no matter what that care is, often assists in the healing process, and increases the chances that the person will get better, quicker. There are no miracles to this except the miracle of tender compassion and the way the body works. But the miracle of healing was what this congregation accomplished for many people. And they did it by simply caring for those who were ill rather than abandoning them. So their memory of Jesus recalled Jesus as healer whose death even brought the healing of the universe.

Now if you are such a congregation, you will have many issues and things to decide. How do we care for the sick? Where shall we place them? How shall we feed them? What shall we do? This question is asked over and over as mission is constructed.

So in the church of Mark, questions of moral authority become important. And it is very interesting how they described authority in this particular passage. Authority, moral authority, is grounded in healing.  The basic principle by which we guide our lives is healing, that which brings wholeness and health and reconciliation of body and soul. That is the authority of the church of Mark. And healing is still a wonderful authoritative principle for living. Do you wonder what you should do? Well, what would be the most healing thing? Do that.

III.

Now the first reading from Deuteronomy points to an authoritative prophet. And when we read this, the assumption often is that this person will come in the distant future and that this is somehow a reference to Jesus. But I don’t think that’s the case. Deuteronomy is about something completely different than Jesus. But it also focused on authority. And it is helpful to attend to Deuteronomy’s approach to authority, because healing (as wonderful as it is) is sometimes not particularly useful as a principle to decide at least some things.

In the center of the book Deuteronomy out of which chapter 18 comes, a story is being re-told about Moses. This story is used to lay out principles for founding a new nation. Around chapters 10 or 11, the story teller (who is really a lawyer) begins talking about the principles, rules, and regulations needed to re-start a nation after it has suffered defeat, using the memories of Moses, wandering around the wilderness, and coming to the promised land.

These are constitutional chapters providing the authority needed to found or rebuild a community based on the principles of God. The basic principles are perhaps best summarized in chapter 10: hold fast to your faith, don’t forget your humble roots, treat the widows, orphans, strangers, and those in need with compassion, and go to church.

And then there are several chapters of guidelines regarding life together: don’t worship idols, some foods are unclean – don’t eat them, (by the way, all of us in Wisconsin might rejoice that the eating of badger meat is prohibited in chapter 14.) There are rules for tithing, sacrifices, the calendar year, livestock management, how to celebrate festivals, the harvest time, municipal judges, legal decisions and court procedures, the prohibition of child sacrifice and magic, the creation of cities of refuge, property boundaries, witnesses in a trial, how to conduct a war, a criminal code of sorts, wills and estates, how to treat captives, rebellious children, family life, incest, how to handle sewage, divorce, and disputes between farmers, along with many other things.

In the middle of all the rules and regulations comes this prophet or judge-like figure whose purpose is to decide all those things not covered in the rulebook. What we have is the creation of that office of legal prophet or authority for the community – a decider with authority to make the decisions when something needs to be decided, not already covered in the rules and regulations. This person is to be somewhat like Moses, and must above all be true to the principles upon which the community is founded, or the person is to be put to death and another person is to be selected. They don’t mess around in Deuteronomy.

Now regrettably the lectionary people cut off the passage at verse 20. Verses 21 and 22 are probably the most important for this prophet figure. For they say, how do we know if the prophet is any good? And verse 22 is the amazing answer. It is ancient, primitive, pragmatism. If it works, then it’s a good decision. If it doesn’t work, well, it isn’t a good decision.

Now think about things and the decisions we all need to make in our lives. The community of Mark is reminding us, that in matters of moral authority and ethics, the Jewish synagogue is a good place to start. But remember to guide your life by doing the most healing thing.

And then Deuteronomy also reminds us that the tradition provides us principles and insights. But that often someone, the author, or the individual needs to decide. The rule book only goes so far. And when the individual is making a decision, authoring a way to be, then the most important thing is to be true to the principles and to do what actually works.

IV.

Between Deuteronomy and Mark is perhaps all the authority we really need as we navigate these turbulent times. Let’s see how that works in our test case regarding the eating of meat offered to idols in the second reading. In ancient Corinth, all meat was sold at the farmer’s market. To sell at the market, you had to offer some of the meat to the emperor. It was a technical sacrifice but more of a tax on the merchants really. The question is: should we eat meat offered to the emperor or not? For we worship Jesus not the emperor.

How does Paul address this moral question? First he thinks about it, gives it careful consideration and creates an argument, not a fight between two people, but a rabbinical argument or line of reasoning.  He reasons, that in the end it’s alright to eat the meat. Go ahead if you want to. It’s not going to kill you. You have that right, he might say. It really doesn’t matter.

And then he shifts gears. For some people this may be big deal. And it’s not worth it to Paul to offend those people just to prove his point. He’ll just abstain, out of respect for those who might disagree. All expressions may be legal, but not all may be helpful.

Here we can see how his authority is grounded in the healing of controversy. How it is grounded in the tradition and yet moves beyond it. How as an individual he authors a new way to approach the a new problem. And how practical the solution is.

What shall I do? We all wonder about what we should do or how we should proceed. Should we drink alcohol in the presence of those for whom it is the source of great sorrow? Should we refrain from offending Muslims even if we have the right of free speech? Should we press our political point at the thanksgiving table with our relatives whose opinions we know are all wrong or is it time to bring healing? Over and over again, we wonder what we should do. And today’s readings lift up the authority we need to author practical solutions to the dilemmas of our lives.

 

 

Reflection for January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5 and 10, I Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

For me, the readings this week lift up how God works in the lives of people. How does the spiritual or divine enter our lives and work in our thoughts, words, and deeds, so that our lives take on deeper meaning and purpose, and so we accomplish the good which is intended for us, others and this world?

The readings do not provide a complete understanding of how God works. God works in mysterious ways, and it would be wrong to say that there are only a few ways in which God works in the lives of people. God apparently likes variety and diversity. Otherwise we would all be the same.

But the readings do provide some insight into how God works with people. Let’s begin with the third reading from the gospel of Mark about Jesus. Here God gets things started with Jesus when John is killed. The murder of John the Baptist means that the vision he started now needs to be carried on by someone else. It’s a critical event for the followers of John when leadership is passed from one person to the next. God works in transitions and events both big and small, and it may be enough to think about the critical events in your life and how God has been involved in them.

And in this reading God it seems wants us to work with others. The first thing Jesus does is call disciples. The presence and purpose of God is found in groups of people talking with each other and working together. And it may be enough to think about your family or friends or church groups and how their presence sometimes brings us into fellowship with God’s intention for us.

But the most interesting thing I think about the disciples is who they are. These people were fishermen involved in the fishing industry centered in Bethsaida of Galilee. Now I’ve said much of this in other sermons, but I need to briefly summarize here. Ancient archeology and sociology have given us deeper insights into the importance of the Galilee fishing industry in the ancient world.

The fish of the Sea of Galilee were of very high quality and highly prized. The fishing industry was run by sophisticated people. Fish were caught, processed, preserved, and highly taxed. The fishermen in this story would have known how to run a complicated business. Their product was distributed both locally and throughout the region. They would have known how to calculate and read. They would have been able to conduct business in several languages. They made frequent business trips to the coast, to various communities in Palestine and beyond, and also to Jerusalem. They would have had naturally the precise skills Jesus would need to start his mission.

Indeed it may be the case that the disciples did not follow Jesus, but that Jesus followed the fishing disciples on their business trips. Almost all of the towns Jesus visited were supplied fish from Galilee, and these fishermen also did business regularly in the farther regions of Tyre and Sidon and the old Phoenician cities along the coast. They also sold their fish in Jerusalem on high festivals. So the travels of Jesus may have been Jesus following the disciples on their business trips. And instead of Jesus calling the fishermen to give up their trade, he uses their skills and trade routes to accomplish his mission.

And that says something to us about how God works in our lives as well. God uses the detail, events, themes, skills, relationships, and vocations we already have to accomplish the divine. What is ordinary in our lives is infused by God with the sacred. The spiritual does not pull us away from our lives but embeds us more deeply in them. God’s divine purpose is found in those ordinary things we do, giving those things deeper meaning. And that means as we go about our lives at work, at school, and at home, God is engaging us in the divine will, just as Jesus used the fishing industry to get things started.

So God gets involved in watershed events, in groups, and in the everyday way we lead our lives.

And God also uses us no matter how flawed we are. That is the point of the first reading from Jonah this morning. Well, actually that is the point of the book of Jonah and this piece from Jonah 3 is only the sanitized version of the whole story. For in this reading it seems like Jonah is the perfect prophet who goes to this great city and proclaims the call to repent and everyone does so and the city is saved. God uses the magnificent Jonah to save a city filled with wonderful people.

But that is not really what happens when we read the entire story. Jonah is the worst possible prophet, not the best. He hates the people of Nineveh. They are not the chosen people of God. They are heathens. He is filled with a prejudice of the worst sort. He rejects God and tries to escape on a ship. A storm thwarts his attempt. He is first swallowed and then vomited by a big fish. Yuck. And then he finally, and very reluctantly, only when forced to do so, goes to Nineveh to proclaim God’s hope for renewal. But in his heart he still hopes God will kill them all. And then when the city is saved, Jonah at the end of the book is so angry that he almost becomes suicidal. Jonah is a personal mess. But God uses him anyway.

And that too tells us something about how God works. God is not really interested in our perfection. Let me say that again. God is not really interested in our perfection. God will accomplish the divine will in us even when we are in full flight away from God and all that is good. God takes us as we are and molds and shapes us so that even the most messed up of us is blessed with that divine spark of goodness that can change the lives of others.

God works in critical events like the death of John. God works in groups. God works in our everyday vocation and God is with us even when we are really messed up. So take a look at your life and think about how God has used you, your events, your relationships, your work, and the mess you’ve made of things to make a difference in the lives of others. God is up to her armpits in the everyday details of your life.

And yet that is not really how God works either. For that second reading speaks to something else about the way God works. In Corinth, the early Christians sensed that God was coming soon and that the end of the world was near. And Paul reminds them that with God so close to coming, it’s time to drop our engagement with the things of this world, and to focus again on what is to come.

Now the end of the world did not come as they had thought. But Paul is right. Yes, God is involved in all of the matters and affairs of life, calling us to do and be the good. But the divine actually transcends all of this too. God is engaged in our lives and yet pulls us beyond them. At first God infuses even the most mundane with the sacred. And then God moves us beyond our preoccupation with all the details of existence into a deeper impending reservoir of compassion and love. Yes, God does use our lives no matter what shape they are in to accomplish the mission. And then God takes all of that and moves us beyond it so that we get a glimpse of the small part we play in the universe finding its way back into the compassionate love of God. God uses the ordinary, the events, our groups, and then transforms them into a new vision of the sacred, and where it will all end up.

Today we lift up Reconciling in Christ: the movement to welcome gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered people into the community of faith. As we have found ourselves working more and more to be a welcoming community, God has been using us to accomplish his purpose.  Many times it is the ordinary details of our lives, or our vocation, or our relationships, or an event that have moved us along this path. And sometimes this path into inclusion has involved deep prejudice and really messed up lives. But God moves us along anyway. We don’t have to be perfect. We take it as we go. Until somehow, someway, in all of this we get a sense that God wants to love everybody, no matter who they are, gay or straight, young or old, republican or democrat, entrepreneur or civil servant, male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek, black or white, rich or poor, or whatever faith tradition has nurtured us. God loves us all, and works with us all to get it done.

Reflection for January 18, 2015, 159th Anniversary of the Congregation

Reflection for January 18, 2015
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

On or about the third Sunday of each January we celebrate the anniversary of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Madison. This is our 159th year. Now anniversary 159 is not a big celebration. We note it, of course, but there is not that much to such odd year celebrations. Actually, we have already formed the 160th anniversary committee and they have been meeting for awhile now planning events for the first months of 2016 that will mark that important milestone. The 160th anniversary celebration will begin later this year with the construction of an historical timeline. I’m sure next year there will be a special concert. And next year we already have a commitment for the bishop to give the sermon on this Sunday. It will all be fun.
But this is the 159th anniversary, and we don’t have the bishop speaking this morning. I guess I’m it. I’ll do what I can. I’ll try to lift up our heritage and its purpose as we reflect on the readings of the day.
Now these readings are not directly connected to congregational anniversary celebrations. They are the regular readings for a regular Sunday in Epiphany. They speak of insight and the encounter with God, sometimes in the night, sometimes in the everyday issues of life, and sometimes in our conversations with others. It’s all pretty standard Epiphany fare. But on a 159th anniversary these readings will work well.
For I Samuel is the story of God’s call to the boy Samuel. He hears God speaking to him in the middle of the night. In the temple he thinks this is the voice of Eli, the priest. It is not. Eli instructs Samuel to listen to the voice and to discover what God wants for his life.
The story reminds us of that which is basic to congregational life through the decades. One generation learns from the next how to find the voice of God in life. Faith is transmitted. It is an intergenerational thing. And the church is always just one generation away from extinction. And when we encounter a generation less religious than previous ones we all get a little anxious. For the church is something that is passed on. It is passed from one generation to the next. And we remember that on anniversary Sundays like this. The faith has been passed on through the generations for 159 years.
Now the intergenerational encounter in I Samuel is instructive to us as we think about our anniversary. Eli, the older one, does not tell Samuel, the younger one, what God says. He does not tell Samuel what to believe. He does not have the answers to the questions of life. He actually does not know what God intends for Samuel or the next generation. But that is not his role. He simple gives Samuel the hint that it is God speaking, and it is alright to simply listen to and follow that voice. Eli does not prescribe Samuel’s religion or faith or the way Samuel will assemble things. That’s all up to God and the next generation. All Eli does is let Samuel know that God is what is happening, and to be attentive to the presence of the spirit in his life wherever that leads.  This is what we strive to do in families and in congregations. We do not know where God will lead the next generation or how the church will take shape. We simply remind the Samuel’s among us to realize that God is working with them, shaping them, molding them, helping them all along the way.
The intergenerational encounter is instructive in another way as well. The encounter comes in the dark of night. Samuel cannot sleep. The voice keeps him awake. And he wakes up Eli, again and again. This sleepless night is something we know about. For we all go through those dark times, those sleepless nights, and those times when things are difficult. That is when God actually likes to speak to us. And that is true for congregations as well as people.
What have been our congregational dark nights? We might say we had one a few years ago when pastoral leadership was not all that consistent. Or what about these recent transitional years as we focused on our mission and structures in this past decade? There were challenges then.
But the challenges that faced the congregation when this room was built, during World War I, were probably greater. The darkness of the war made it difficult for German immigrants; and the congregation hastily shifted its language of worship and business from German to English, while it struggled to build this building, and also worked through pastoral transition.
Certainly the late 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were challenging times for the congregation as it navigated the shifts in our culture and city. It is through such restless, sleepless times, that God’s voice speaks to us, calling us to think in new ways and act with different purposes. And that is comforting to us as we reflect on the current challenges we face as our neighborhood changes once again and our identity is reconfigured according to the spirit’s voice.
Now I think the second reading is also important for congregational life and is useful when we think of anniversaries.  For it reminds us that God’s work and will is found in the everyday matters of debate in congregational conversation.  In this passage from Corinthians, the two matters up for discussion are (1) what we should eat, and (2) can we have sex with anybody we want. Remember that as this is written, the church is still young and figuring things out. Those great traditions regarding Christian ethics were not developed yet, and Corinth, like Madison, was an anything goes kind of town. So these were the questions: (1) what we should eat, and (2) can we have sex with anybody we want. You can see here that as the issues are discussed, gradually a guideline or principle is developed. You can call the principle in this passage many things, but probably the term with the least difficult baggage is Christian physicality. Yes, it does matter what Christians ate, and what we eat and how our food is obtained is still an expression of our values. And it does matter what we do sexually. Why? Because our faith has physical implications. And in the end, we want people to be in loving, tender, and caring physical relationships.
Our Christian debates and issues may be somewhat different from these two ancient congregational conversations regarding food and sex. Although with respect to the food we eat and matters of human sexuality there has been a lot of Christian ethical consternation of late.
But for an anniversary, let us simply remember that it is in such issues, whatever they are, that we encounter God again. We discover God’s will as we talk with each other about what is the best thing to do. I don’t know how many times as a pastor, I’ve listened to Christian lay people discuss a matter about which they disagree. Usually, such discussions are lubricated with lots and lots of coffee. But usually, gradually, the group makes a sense of things, comes to a conclusion or principle and decides the best way to physically express the faith in this time and place. We do that over and over again in congregations when we work on budgets, buildings, programs, staffing, ground games, windows and walls, emergency relief, shelter work, and forms of worship. Congregations are sustained over the years and decades and centuries by people capable of handling such issues in these ways, just as congregations are sustained by one generation passing onto the next how to listen in the dark of night for the voice of God.
And in that third reading we have the encounter of Jesus with a new disciple Nathanael, who’s remarkably modern cynicism is overcome by Jesus’ small insight regarding where Nathanael has been. The reading reminds us that it’s all about the encounter with Jesus. That is what sustains congregations through the decades. And often these encounters are shaped around first impressions, life’s incidentals, things that really don’t matter that much. Yet from them, through them, and in them we encounter that deeper reservoir of the compassionate love of God. As we celebrate our anniversary, it is good for us to remember that we are still those disciples, introducing people to Jesus: to the compassionate love of God, sometimes in the neighborhood, sometimes in a shelter, sometimes in conversation, sometimes in shared memory, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the gentle nurture of the quiet, still voice of God, calling us all into a yet unknown future.

Reflection for January 11, 2015

Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Historically the church has remembered the Baptism of Jesus on this Sunday. The story of the Baptism of Jesus is preserved in all the gospels. It involves John the Baptizer, the Jordan River, and a sense of God’s spiritual presence and voice of assurance.
And today we celebrate the baptism of Vaughn Coleman. Vaughn’s baptism today is a time to celebrate the joys of family and the hope we all have for Vaughn’s future and the future we wish for all our children. His baptism is the ritual by which we celebrate his life with us. In the rite of baptism, we sense the closeness of God through water, word, our family bonds, and human faith. We sense that God draws close to Vaughn and welcomes him into a life marked by compassion and love.  And we also say (and have said for a very long time) that the Spirit of God is present in Holy Baptism.
Even though we say that the spirit is involved in baptism, as Lutherans we really don’t do much with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not talked about very much in Lutheran circles, even in Lutheran sermons. Why is that? Part of it is our tendency to be modest. We don’t want to do anything that might call attention to ourselves. And the Spirit can sometimes be outrageous. And Lutherans are seldom accused of being overly enthusiastic about anything. We find it best not to wear our emotions on our sleeves. And we would prefer the middle of the road whenever that is available as a course or direction. Outsiders who view Lutherans often come away impressed with our desire to sing hymns, our fellowship around hot dishes and jello, and our willingness to help those in need. But no one has really ever accused us of being charismatic or “out there” on things. And we would even be somewhat suspicious of those denominations which include speaking in tongues as part of their approach to the divine.
No, we Lutherans tend to talk about Jesus a lot. And we get into God the maker of all things. Those things make sense. But to be honest, you could take the third person out of the Holy Trinity and we probably would not notice much.
But today, as we remember the Baptism of Jesus and celebrate Vaughn’s baptism, let’s get into the Holy Spirit a bit and talk about how it works in the lives of people from a Lutheran perspective; taking instruction as we always do from the readings for this day, each of which talk about the work of the Holy Spirit in different ways.
So how does the spirit of God, the wind of God, sweep into our lives? How does the spirit come to us? How are we inspired to change direction or to find the courage to go on? What is the mystery of the presence of the spirit of God?
In the first reading, the spirit at creation comes when all is dark, empty, and formless. Now I think this is rather good news. The wind, the spirit of God, in the book of Genesis begins to blow in creation when things are all dark, empty, and without form. Now I don’t know about you, but in my own life there have been those stretches that have been pretty dark, when things are empty, and when things are not taking a clear shape. It’s a kind of murky, difficult time. Often these stretches come in January in Wisconsin, but most of them are induced by the difficulties of our lives rather than the weather. Those dark, empty, and formless times can come because of our work, family, friends, or a personal crisis as we grow older through life. But when they come, it’s pretty discouraging.
It’s comforting to me to know when I’m in that darkness and when I feel the void, that the wind of God is about to blow, that this emptiness is an emptying out so that God can enthuse me for something new. The darkness and formlessness allow me to see an emerging shape in a new dawn. And the spirit is with me helping me to give form to a new future or a new possibility. We Lutherans need to remember that in the dark, empty, formless times, God is shaping us and guiding us into something new: God is beginning to create a new thing. That is the work of the spirit.
Now in the second reading about Paul and his journey to Ephesus, the spirit comes not in the dark, formless emptiness, but when we travel, when there is discussion, and when we learn something.
The book of Acts gives us the details of Paul’s travel. He moves from Corinth in Greece toward what is now Turkey. He goes through the island area. He then meets with a small group of people, about twelve in number. That’s all it takes to form the church in Ephesus. Eventually that small group grows larger and becomes the home of John who writes the book of Revelation. It becomes the mother church of six other congregations. But in this part of the story, it’s a small group of people discussing things together. So after a journey, the spirit’s presence comes when there is a conversation or discussion. There is some learning which involves the blending of two different traditions regarding baptism.
Now I don’t know about you, but for me this too is comforting. For sometimes as doors open and close in life and we move from one thing to the next, we find ourselves on the journey, sojourning on this island or that, and talking with people all along the way. As we travel, emotionally or physically, as we talk with others: we learn and grow. That too is the work of the spirit, enriching and deepening our lives and faith.
I probably don’t have the disposition or Lutheran inclination to speak in tongues or prophesy as they do in the seventh verse of the reading this morning. But I can think of many times when I talked with others, when I traveled either physically to places like Holden Village or India or Germany or made an emotional journey through grief or hard times, learning and growing all along the way. And that is the work of God in the lives of people. It is the work of the spirit.
Finally in the third reading today regarding the Baptism of Jesus, the spirit comes when there is an opening, an inner voice, a divine connection. In the baptism of Jesus, the clouds open, there is a voice from heaven or what I would call an inner voice, and Jesus is connected to God as a child of God. The spirit comes when there is an opening, an inner voice, or a divine connection.
Sometimes there is an opening, things happen and life changes. In that opening, the spirit descends or enters into our lives and things become different. Sometimes it seems like the opening is a rending or tearing as what was stuck in place becomes unstuck. Those can be turbulent times. At other times the opening is quiet and subtle and comes in prayer as the clouds of doubt or wondering open and we can sense the sunlight of God’s compassion. Either way, when there is an opening, the spirit of God is able to enter.
Often that rending or opening involves an inner voice. We all hear voices really, not just the mentally ill, but all of us. And those inner voices sometimes reveal through the openings of life where God’s compassion and love are taking us now. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The divine seeps through the cracks of life, talking with us all along the way.  And in those openings as we feel God calling us to do something, we become connected to God again. We become more fully the children of God, working together with others on the dream of God for the world. And that too is the gift of the spirit.
We Lutheran’s don’t like to talk about the Holy Spirit much. We never have. But it is the Baptism of Our Lord and of Vaughn. And when we think about it, we know the spirit is God working still in the lives of people everywhere. The spirit comes when all is dark, empty, and formless. The spirit comes when we travel, when there is some discussion, and when we learn something. And the spirit comes when there is an opening, an inner voice, and we celebrate that divine connection between God and Vaughn and all of us really. Amen.