Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Is Jesus Sermon

This is the sermon I gave at Church of the Saviour Episcopal Church in Clermont, Iowa on August 24, 2008. The question I asked was: Who is Jesus?

In todays readings names have a central role. In the reading from Exodus, the story is about how the descendants of Jacob become the twelve tribes of Israel and how they become enslaved to the Egyptians. One of those descendants is a baby boy who is put in a basket by his mother so he escapes death by the hands of the Egyptians. Well, the little one is found by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh, who will raise him as her child, and she names him Moses because she “drew him out of the water”. The name Moses is very significant because it is a royal Egyptian name, the names of the Pharaohs themselves often have Moses as part of their name because the Pharaohs were considered gods and their power as a god came from the Nile river, from the water. Without the water of the Nile, Egypt would cease to exist. So it is very significant that this Hebrew boy, who was to be a slave, becomes part of the royal household of Egypt and then eventually leads the Hebrews out of Egypt on their journey to the promised land.

In the Romans reading, Paul says we all have names: prophet, minister, teacher, exhorter, giver, leader; to each according to their ability.

Then in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks of his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

I want to ask two questions:

1. What did Peter mean?
2. What does this mean to us today?

1. What did Peter mean when he said “ You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah – which simply means God’s anointed One

There were three types of people who would be anointed:

1. Prophets
2. Priests
3. Kings
And in Jesus we find all three.

However, the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would exercise God’s rule over God’s people.

But Jesus wasn’t the all conquering hero that the Jews were expecting, similar to Judas Maccabeus who had kicked the occupying powers out in 167 BC.

Rather he was the suffering servant that Isaiah spoke about.

The last prophet in the Old Testament Malachi prophesied three hundred years before Jesus was born and said this:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:1)
Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah – the one sent by God.

But he recognized more. That Jesus wasn’t just human, but that he was divine too.

For a Jew like St Peter this was, this was a seismic shift in his thinking, to call Jesus the Son of God.

All his life Peter had been taught that there is one God and never to worship a man as God.

It was one of the reasons which caused both the Jewish and Christian faiths to clash with Roman authority – because emperor worship was the touchstone of loyalty to the empire.

And the city where Jesus asked the disciples the question was not insignificant either. For he asked them the question in Caesarea Philippi, a city about 25 miles northeast of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown.

Caesarea Philippi was know for its plurality of religions. In that city alone there were 14 temples dedicated to the worship of Ba’al.

And high up on a prominent mountain peak you could see the ultimate blasphemy for a Jew – a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar.
The famous Bible commentator William Barclay put it all in perspective:

Here indeed is a dramatic picture. Here is a homeless, penniless Galilean carpenter, with twelve very ordinary men around him.

At the moment the orthodox are actually plotting and planning to destroy him as a dangerous heretic.

He stands in an area littered with the temples of Syrian gods; in a place where the ancient Greek gods looked down; in a place where the history of Israel crowded upon the minds of men; where the white marble splendor of the home of Caesar-worship dominated the landscape and compelled the eye.

And there – of all places – this amazing carpenter stands and asks men who they believe him to be, and expects the answer, the Son of God.

So what does that mean for us today?

If Jesus is God’s anointed One and he is divine, then we need to take what he says seriously

Jesus made some startling and very exclusive claims.

For example in the Gospel of John he said: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)

I often hear people say that “All religions are basically the same – they all worship the same God”.

But I don't necessarily agree. Because Jesus doesn’t leave us that option.

If Christianity is all about following Christ – rather than the common misconception that a Christian is simply someone who is nice and good - then universalism (that is the belief that all religions will bring us to God) is not a Christian option. This does not invalidate other religions, or lead us to judge them, but it gives their path over to God's grace and leads us on a radically different journey.

Why? Because of who Jesus is.

In today’s Gospel reading the question is asked:

Who do you think Jesus is?.

There were a number of answers

Firstly, we have the crowd’s answer in our Bible passage today.

The disciples in answering the question replied:

Some say; John the Baptist, other Elijah and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Why Elijah. The Jews steeped in the Old Testament knew the prophecy from Malachi that Elijah must come before the Messiah would return.

Why John the Baptist? Many thought John the Baptist was the return of Elijah – indeed Jesus himself announces John as a prophet like Elijah.
Why Jeremiah: Because Jesus, like Jeremiah “was a prophet of judgment, declaring God’s impending destruction on his own nation and therefore opposed and persecuted by its leaders” (RT France )

But let us also look at some other answers given over the centuries by famous figures in recent history.

Consider Albert Schweitzer the famous theologian and one of the 113 Swiss Nobel Prize winners; who says, if we don't believe Jesus is Christ, then he was a deluded fanatic who futilely threw away his life in blind devotion to a mad dream.

Then there is the famous writer, George Bernard Shaw, who was also an atheist who said

“Jesus was a man who was sane until Peter hailed him as the Christ and who then became a monomaniac…his delusion is a very common delusion among the insane…”

Or if you ask the question to a practicing Muslim and you will get the answer that Jesus was simply a great prophet , second only to Mohamed and that he was not divine.

But there have been other answers.

Such as CS Lewis

And in his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis made this poignant statement,

"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.

He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a
man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be
the devil of hell.

You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."

Being a Christian is not simply about being a “good” person.

It is indeed not about who the follower is.

Rather it is all about Him who we follow.

A Christian is a person who has recognized who Jesus is and has then decided to follow him.

As Peter put it: Jesus is The Messiah: the Son of the living God.

My prayer is that, with Simon Peter, you would simply say with every fiber of your being, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

The question I’d like to leave you with today is this: Who do you think Jesus is?

Because your answer, the way you name Him, will affect the way you live your life.


Friday, August 22, 2008

St. James and the computer

In my travels yesterday, I happened to drive by St. James Episcopal Church in Independence, Iowa. I noticed a sign saying that they had a computer center with free internet open from 2-5 every weekday afternoon. I jotted that fact down in my mental notebook and continued on with my day.

Well in the afternoon, I was driving back home and was going close to Independence so I decided to swing by and check this computer center out for myself. It is a rather simple affair, five computers in their parish hall and all of them had someone working on it. I spoke with the church member that was monitoring the center and she said that it had been open for a couple of weeks and had been getting more people every day that they were open. The reason that they decided to do this is that they are very close to the city library that is being closed because the library is moving to a new, more spacious building. However, the new building is quite a ways away from the current building and the people who have a tendency to use the computer services in the library tend to be disadvantaged and live within a four block area of the current library. Traveling to the new library would be difficult, especially in the winter. So the congregation decided to open up this center to help out their neighbors. In the hour that I was there, a total of seven people came and went using the computers to check email, apply for jobs, type correspondence, or just to surf the web for awhile.

I really compliment the St. James congregation for doing this outreach to the community. May we all have this attitude and forethought to help our neighbors.

Grace to all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tree Planting

On Monday evening a group of Democrats from Clayton County, Iowa gathered for a photo with a tree that was donated by the county party to the Elkader city park. The tree was actually planted in the spring but alas, there was a flood that closed the park. The tree survived the flood (there was about a foot of water covering the ground for a day where the tree is located) and so we decided that we should visit our tree and have a photo taken with it.

Afterwards we had our monthly meeting, which didn't have the attendance that I had hoped that it would since this is an election year. I have a feeling that many people in Iowa are still suffering from PCSD (Post Caucus Stress Disorder) in which they won't get interested until a month before the election.

Overall, it is looking good for Democrats in the county, but as I well know, there is no candidate that is ever assured of winning in any contested election.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Day of School

Today is the first day of school for my kids. They are starting 10th, 8th, 4th, & 2nd grade at our local school which is about 8 miles away from where we live. All of the grades are in one building and the total enrollment of the school is about 675 students. It is also the school that I graduated from a few years ago.... But then I went to school in Strawberry Point for K-4, then Lamont for 5th grade, then Arlington for 6th grade, then back to Strawberry Point for 7-8, and then out to the central school (Starmont) site that is located between the three towns. It is much nicer to have everything all in one site now.

The youngest who is 4 years old is going to "Grandma's Preschool", which is actually my mom who works with her on a number of activities. Hopefully, when I'm 84 years old I will have half the energy of my mom.

Well that is about it for today. Grace and Peace to all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Crop Dusting

On Friday of last week we had an unusual occurrence over our farm. A neighbor apparently was having some of their corn sprayed with a crop duster. I can only remember one other time when there was a crop duster in our neighborhood. That is when there was an outbreak of army worms about 25 years ago. I haven't heard what the reason was for the spraying but it must be some sort of serious infestation because the cost of employing a crop duster is very high.

I know that the pilots that fly these aircraft must be crazy because they go very low over the fields and seem like they barely miss the electric lines and/or trees at the ends of the fields.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Twenty Years of Wedded Bliss (ok, sometimes it wasn't blissful...)

On August 13, 1988 in West Bend, Iowa, two young idealistic people got married. Now, twenty years later, they have been through ups and downs, the births of five beautiful children, the grief of losing parents, dreams realized, and dreams not realized. Through it all they stayed together which sometimes was very hard but it all was worth it. Marriage isn't just about love; it is about commitment. When I see friends and family that have gotten divorced I feel very sad because they don't have the special bond that my wife and I have. Maybe they never had a bond like we have and that is the reason for the couple going separate ways.

I pray for all couples, that they have the bond that true love and commitment gives them and that it will endure always.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bye Bye Bull

Well today is Tuesday which is when the Edgewood Livestock Auction has their weekly sale. And today our Simmental bull, Wolf, headed to the sale barn. It is kind of a sad day for me since I purchased him when he was a yearling and I've had him for four years. But as in all things on a farm, he was livestock and not a pet. So it came to the time when he headed down the road. At least now I won't be getting any phone calls from a neighbor that he is out and in with their cows....

Monday, August 11, 2008

It is Monday again....

Kizzy the calf lounging around at the Clayton County Fair

It is Monday again and I'm taking a wee break between reports. The kids have a week to go before school starts again. My lovely wife is trying to finish up her final paper for a class she took this summer. To top it off, it is a very nice day out today.

With all the conflicts in the world, Iraq, Afganistan, Sudan, and now Georgia, I am reminded of the first verse of Psalm 133 which says, Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity! My prayer for today is not necessarily of unity but of peace.

O God, may peace come to those areas and peoples that are experiencing wars and conflicts that they may find peace not just for themselves but for their neighbors as well. Amen

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walking on Water Sermon

A photo of the Mississippi River near Waukon Junction, Iowa

This is the sermon that I gave at the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on Sunday, Augsust 10th.

Once, on a church bulletin board there was the following notice:
Morning Bible Study: Jesus walks on water
Evening Bible Study: Searching for Jesus.

Somehow it seemed no one in that church had foreseen the confusing message their bulletin board was going to tell that day. Anyway this morning we have the familiar story about Jesus walking on water.

First a bit of background: John the Baptist has just been beheaded and the disciples (some of whom were followers of John) have not had time to grieve for him. They are immediately plunged into feeding the 5000, gathering up the 12 baskets of fragments left over and trying now to quell a crowd of people who want to proclaim Jesus as king. Jesus then sends them on ahead of him in a boat. Then Matthew says that Jesus dismissed the people and went alone up the mountain to pray. You know we could ignore this verse, see it as just setting the context of the next episode in the gospel and yet it contains some very important lessons for us all this morning.

First – Jesus is genuinely concerned in the welfare of us his disciples. They need rest after all that has happened. So he sends them ahead, away from the crowd and the demands of people. He sends them ahead so that the demands of ministry which have drained them cannot exert pressure on them for a time. We all need to learn to take time out from people and the demands of others.

Secondly – they obey and in obeying they will in fact come face to face with a storm. Learn from that – obedience to the will, to the Word of God does not guarantee a quiet life. It may in fact lead us through a storm. But remember this also – the storm was not unforeseen by Christ. He was not being careless or care free with the life of his disciples. There was a lesson that they could learn only in the midst of that storm.

Thirdly – Jesus had not forgotten them, even when he was praying. He went up a mountainside. Obviously because it enabled him to be alone to pray, but also because it enabled him to see the disciples in the boat rowing across the lake. Who was Jesus praying for? Himself, yes but I am also sure, from the example he set the disciples elsewhere in prayer, the disciples also. Here is an important lesson from Jesus about ministry. You are most vulnerable after the miracle has happened. You are most vulnerable and need to seek the face of God in prayer immediately you have done something for the glory of God. If Christ needed to seek his Father’s face in prayer immediately after feeding 5000 then how much more do we after the things we do for God’s glory.

Then we learn that the disciples are now caught in a storm. The wind has come up against them and their little boat is being buffeted about by the waves. They are struggling for all they are worth to keep the boat on course. Then Jesus comes walking on the water towards them. Matthew tells us it was the fourth watch of the night, that is about 3am.

Well the disciples are absolutely terrified, hardly surprising. They fail to recognize him because they do not expect him to come to them. After all they had left him on the shore many hours ago. They did not expect him and they certainly had not entertained the idea that he could walk on water. In fact Matthew says they think he is some sort of a ghost. Their fear is real and it is clear to Christ because he speaks to them. Note the middle phrase – ‘It is I’ or ‘I AM.’ This phrase again points to a self-revelation of God. But it is prefaced and followed by an exhortation to take courage and not be afraid. It is only at this point, the voice of Christ, the Word of God spoken that the disciples eyes are opened as to who it is that comes walking on the water towards them. You see, their eyes are blinded by the storm around them. They cannot see that it is Christ coming towards them because their eyes, their heart, their minds are full of waves, wind and rain. They are focused on the storm and they do not expect Jesus to come. With the result that when he does they fail to recognize him amidst the storm.

But Peter, does recognize Jesus. Not only does he recognize him he also has faith in him. So Peter calls out to Christ in the midst of the storm. You know, courage alone is not enough to walk on water. Courage must have wisdom and discernment. That is why Peter calls for Jesus to call him forth. Peter wanted to go to Christ but he would and could only do so if Christ called him forth. Why did Peter ask such a question of Jesus? I think Peter knew that where Jesus was no matter how dark the night, no matter how high the waves, strong the wind or wet the water –it was in fact safer than being in a boat without him. I think it is central to this whole story

Jesus says ‘come’ and Peter obeys. It took faith and courage to climb over the side of the boat and to let go and walk towards Jesus. We are not told how far Peter walked before he began to sink. I will come to the sinking in a moment. But stop for a moment and think abut what Peter has just done. There were, and are, all sorts of reasons for not getting out of the boat in the midst of the storm.

You can’t walk on water – it is impossible.
You will look foolish and get even wetter than you already are.
It is dangerous, the boat is the safest place to be.
You are needed here in the boat – we need all the help we can get to fight this storm.
You are putting too much faith in that call.

There was only one reason to get out of that boat – Jesus had said ‘come.’ There is no other reason to climb over the side of that boat and to walk on water. Everything said to do the very opposite but Peter obeyed the command of Jesus. The reality is that no other disciple in that boat obeyed. They sat there cowering in fear, blinded by their fear of the storm. The other eleven remained terrified in the boat and never experienced walking on water – only Peter did. Remain in the boat and you never know what it is like to walk on the water with Christ. And the truth is that only the call of Christ could and would make it possible – that is why Peter asks the question.

Then it all begins to go horribly wrong. For some reason this is the part that most people focus on – the fact that Peter’s faith failed him. Yes it did but not until after he had walked on water. Let me ask you a question: Which would you rather? Taking a few steps on the water towards Jesus and then sinking or never getting out of the boat? Yes Peter looked around him and when his eyes had moved off Christ and on to the wind and the waves he began to sink. He began to doubt the reality that had happened and it all began to unravel. He begins to listen to those voices that would have kept him in the boat in the first place. ‘What was I thinking?’ ‘I can’t walk on water.’ ‘I am going to drown.’ ‘What am I doing out here on the water?’ Immediately he yells ‘save me Lord!’ Jesus does save Peter and in the midst of the water, away from the hearing of those disciples in the boat he helps Peter to locate the source of his sinking – doubt and lack of faith. Peter had not doubted when he climbed out over the side of the boat. He had no lack of faith as he walked towards Christ on the water. It was when his focus left Christ and went on to the wind and the waves that faith left him and doubt assailed his soul.

But is that not the story of your faith and my faith? We walk on water, we begin to sink. We tell Christ to go away and then when we begin to drown we cry for him to save us. You see the reality for us all is that the world is a pretty stormy place. There are setbacks, opposition, unexpected obstacles and any one of them will shift our gaze off Jesus and we begin to sink and drown. The reality also is that people are very quick to come and say ‘I told you so!’ There are many who refuse to get out of the boat because of the storms of life and they sit around just waiting to point out the drowning of others because they stepped out in faith.

Here is the heart of this passage. You cannot grow unless you get out of the boat and experience both walking on water and that sinking drowning experience which leads you to cry from the depths of your soul for Christ to save you. Peter needed to sink in order to grow. He needed to sink in order that he might move to the next step of his faith in Christ. You see walking on water does not ultimately lead to spiritual growth. How often we read in the gospels of the miracles of Christ but how many followed only to see a miracle happen – they never came to faith because of the miracle. Those experiences may bring people back to see and experience more but it is the experience of suffering which drives them to cry out to Christ.

You see by sinking and being saved Peter would never forget. He would never forget the experience of taking that step of faith out of the boat and walking on the water. He would never forget that fear in his soul as he began to sink nor the cry for salvation. He would not forget the hands of Jesus lifting him up out of the wet and the experience of walking back to the boat together. He would never forget what it felt like to have the arms of Christ around him supporting him as together they got back into the boat. You know one of the things we fail to see and understand about the disciples in the gospel is that their faith and understanding of who Jesus was came grew gradually. They constantly come back to the same point time and time again. Each time their understanding has grown a little deeper and their eyes are opened a little more to who Jesus is and why he had come. It is not until the cross and the resurrection that their eyes are truly opened and their understanding deepened further. I would suggest that is the normal pattern for how people come to faith in Christ Jesus – over a longer period of time than we think or would like. But gradually eyes are opened, understanding deepened and the same point is returned to many times. It happened with the disciples and they had Christ as their teacher – why would we expect anything differently?

There are some lessons here for us this morning.

Obedience does not guarantee that we will escape adversity. Obedience may in fact lead us through some severe storms. When that happens let us remember Jesus has not forgotten us – he has foreseen every storm along the way.

When we least expect it, in the darkest moment of the storm He will come to us, walking on the very waves, through the wind and rain – the very things which frighten us and buffet us. He comes to rescue us and to bring us safely to our journeys end. Yet the danger is that our eyes will be so focused on the storm that we will fail to recognise him when he comes. I pray that will not be so.

Courage requires discernment and wisdom – but when Christ calls us to get out of the boat and walk on water – it is a call to obedience and faith. Yes there will be fear, there will always be fear when we step out in faith – but remember Peter had to step out in faith. Christ called him to come forth but Peter had to take the step of faith.

Yes we will experience great moments in our faith, walking on the water but we will also experience those moments when we are sinking and drowning. It is those moments when we cry to Christ to save us that we grow – because when all else fails, when there is no hope except him – he comes and lifts us and saves us. He brings us back to safety and takes us to where he had instructed us to go in the first place.

Here is a question: Would you rather sink having experienced walking on the water towards Christ or remain in the boat? There will always be reasons to stay in the boat. There will always be voices telling you how foolish, how stupid, how dangerous, etc it is to step out in faith on to the water. There is only one reason to get out of the boat and walk on the water – the command of Jesus to come.

Let me finish by saying this. Do you ever think that in quiet reflective moments Peter’s heart surged with the memories of that night and walking on the water? He experienced something none of the other disciples ever did because they stayed in the boat. There is a knowledge of Jesus that only comes through the action and experience of getting out of our boats and walking on the water with him. Peter walked on water, he sank and was rescued. The result was his eyes, the eyes of the others were opened further to who Jesus was. So when you begin to sink – your response is the key. Remember Christ will be there to save you all you have to do is call on him. But also remember you wont ever experience walking on water if you never get out of your boat – and that means taking a risk at answering the voice of Christ.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

A midsummer's afternoon

The above photo is of the four Mulefoot piglets that my fifteen year old daughter exhibited at the Clayton County, Iowa Fair.

These are the critters that she received a trophy for 'Best Overall Other Animal' exhibit. She is now up to two fair trophies. That is the number that I received for all of my years exhibiting at the county fair and she has three years left. Of course my thirteen year old already had two trophies so she will probably end up with more than either of us.

The majority of my family is down in Des Moines, Iowa. My lovely wife had a educational conference there. Three of the kids and my mom went with her, they are staying at my brother's house where the youngest two can play with my niece's kids. My thirteen year old daughter and my nine year old son are lucky enough to get to stay with their dad for a few days.

Well I suppose I should get back to working on another appraisal report....

Grace and Peace to all!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The County Fair

This past week was our county fair in National, Iowa. My wife and I are both 4-H leaders and four out of the five kids are involved some way in 4-H. The four year old isn't old enough yet to be an official part of it but she tries to help out with everyone else.

If you don't know, 4-H is a youth organization that originally started out in rural areas but is now in both large and small places. In Iowa, the Iowa State University extension service administers the program. I think that 4-H is best summed up by the 4-H pledge that is said at every meeting.

I pledge
My head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service, and
My health to better living,
For my club, my community, my country, and my world.

Our kids did well, they received some purple ribbons, mostly blue ribbons, and a few red ribbons. One trophy was won by the oldest daughter in the "Other Animals" category for the mulefoot pigs that she took.

The fair is an event that the whole family looks forward to but I think that everyone is relieved when it ends after a few days. The oldest two stayed overnight in the barn with the livestock. Yours truly got to chaperone two nights to make sure that no one got into too much mischief. Now school will be starting in a couple of weeks so the kids are winding down the summer.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful day!