Turning Points: a sermon on Jesus, Rome, Peter, and place.

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

My sermon from the 19th Sunday After Pentecost (September 13, 2015) on Mark 8:27-38.


You Are: Jesus as a Ghost.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:36-48

My sermon from the 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2015) on Luke 24:36-48.


Go, tell! An Easter Sermon

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark 16:1-8

My sermon from the Easter Sunday (April 5, 2015) on Mark 16:1-8.


Fruit by the Foot: a sermon on the weirdness that is foot washing.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

John 13:1-17,31-35

My sermon from the Maundy Thursday (April 2, 2015) on John 13:1-17,31-35.


We Want to See: a sermon on John.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

John 12:20-33

My sermon from the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015) on John 12:20-33.


Game Time

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28

My sermon from the 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 1, 2015) on Mark 1:21-28. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Today, in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark, we hear Jesus’s first public act. This is it. The stadium is filled. The first disciples are on the sidelines. The national anthem has been sung. And the star of the game – Jesus – is on the field.

It’s game time.

Jesus is in Capernaum, a small city on the coast of the sea of Galilee. He’s just been baptized by John in the Jordan, he’s put together his first group of disciples, and its now the sabbath. So Jesus walks into the local center of the community – the synagogue – and he begins to teach.

Now, unlike churches and synagogues today, a single pastor or rabbi wasn’t the only one allowed to teach. Community members, like Jesus, could come up and lead. So what Jesus does is fairly normal. And I bet it’s safe to say that the people there probably knew Jesus – so they thought they had an idea what this kid from Nazareth was going to say. But when Jesus teaches – they’re amazed. His teaching strikes them as something powerful and mighty. They not sure what to make of it.

But someone in the audience gets it.

The reading says that a man with an unclean spirit is sitting there, listening. He listens to Jesus – and then he challenges back.

The spirit asks Jesus why he’s there? Why come into this community and disturb what is taking place?

Because the unclean spirit is happy where he is. He’s happy being in the middle of the community, in the middle of daily life. We shouldn’t bring our modern understanding of medicine and science into the text and think that this man is just suffering from some undiagnosed mental health issue. We shouldn’t think that he would be fine if he had the right pill. This unclean spirit isn’t schizophrenia nor should we think this is just some silly ghost story that we tell to scare ourselves. No, to Mark, this unclean spirit represents something else. This spirit is happy living in the world – happy living in that man – happy living in the center of that community. He’s there, in the middle, causing havoc, distrust, and causing separation from God. That unclean spirit is happy building and maintaining a boundary – a boundary between this world and God. So when Jesus shows up and begins to teach – that spirit knows what’s already happened. The status quo has been broken. The boundary between God and humanity is undone.

So the unclean spirit shouts out. We can’t really tell, from the text, if the spirit is afraid of Jesus or is challenging Jesus. But, either way, the end is still the same. Jesus simply commands the unclean spirit to come out – and it does. There’s no prayer, no magic spells, nothing. Jesus just commands – and the spirit can’t do anything but come out. When it comes to Jesus and the reign of God – when it comes to the Superbowl between this world and God – it isn’t even a close contest.

It’s kinda like watching last year’s Super Bowl between the Broncos and Seahawks.

For Mark – this, in a nutshell, is who Jesus is. This first public act is more than just a healing. Jesus is uniquely empowered – he’s uniquely authorized – to declare that the reign of God is here. Jesus is here to institute that reign – to give it life and breath – to show us a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like – to model for us just how our life should look. The old status quo is broken. The old boundaries that keep people away from God’s love are being undone. The old rule that everything as it is now – must be that way always – that just isn’t true.

Because the reign of God is here.

This past week, I was with around 100 other pastors, chaplains, and deacons, from our denomination – the ELCA – at a retreat outside Philadelphia. We were all newish pastors and ministry leaders – all having less than three years of ministry – and we were there to worship, to learn some new ideas, and to share our stories of what it’s like being leaders among God’s people. And it was great. I got little sleep, spent 16 hour days centered around scripture, stewardship, music, and leadership. And I had intense conversations with pastors from Maine through Philadelphia, listening to what they were struggling with.

And I heard a lot about the status quo, about the boundaries that congregations setup for themselves and about the boundaries pastors bring with them into new places – not even knowing that they had them. I heard about communities struggling to see the people around them and other communities struggling as their identity changes. I heard stories of communities coming undone and others on the verge of shutting down.

And this retreat did a great job creating space for these stories. But, by the end, many of us were mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. We heard the struggles. We created space for the issues. We explored the brokenness.

But we didn’t create space to hear about the in-breaking of God. We didn’t create space to witness to all the amazing things that God is doing. We spent time with our struggles – but we didn’t raise up our joys.

And that’s pretty normal, isn’t it? How often are we devoured by our own troubles – by our own struggles with our status quo? How often do we let our troubles stew – giving them the authority to tell us what to do – to direct, manipulate, and control us? How often do we let our status quo end up becoming our default for how our lives will always be? How often do we let our unclean spirits define just exactly how things are?

Jesus’s first public act is walking straight into the center of the community – the center of life – and he announces that the reign of God is here. He announces that the boundaries we have, the boundaries we build – the boundaries we hold onto that define how we love ourselves and how we love others – Jesus announces that those boundaries don’t win. Jesus doesn’t use any special props. He doesn’t say any magic words. He doesn’t ask everyone in the community to believe in him before the healing occurs. Jesus, instead, just walks into the room. He teaches. He engages. He commands. And he breaks through.

In Jesus, God’s love is announced. God’s hope is shared. God’s identity is made real. Jesus’s teaching and his healing are intimately tied – they can’t be separated. For Mark, they are one and the same. His teaching announces that the status quo has been undone; that our boundaries are broken down. Jesus’s teaching announces that our rules separating and oppressing people, our rules that keep people stuck because of who they are, what they look like, how much they make, or who they love – those boundaries have no authority. The only authority left is God’s.

When the spirit is cast out, the text doesn’t say that it’s destroyed. It’s out there. That evil is still around. But it’s power has been uprooted. It’s power to hold sway over our lives has been undone. The boundaries it builds, maintains, and thrives on – no longer defines who we are. No longer does separation define our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. Our feeling and experience that, somehow, this separation, these boundaries, this distance trumps God’s reign, is done.

That’s what Jesus, in Mark, announces. It’s a theme that runs throughout the whole gospel – a theme that we’ll be hearing over and over again. Jesus is here. Jesus announces that the reign of God is here. Hope and Love – those now are the rules of the game. The contest between God and evil, between God’s hope and our boundaries, isn’t a fair fight. We think that the game is on – but the contest is already over. God’s won and, in Christ, we’ve won too.



Gone Fishin’ (with Jesus)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark 1:14-20

My sermon from 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 25, 2015) on Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

What picture do you imagine when you hear that line? Do you see a boat? Some pristine lake waters, maybe several young fishermen tending their nets under the hot midday sun. There are, within these short verses from Mark, enough words and phrases to paint a very vibrant, beautiful, outdoorsy scene – reminiscent of some visit to a national park, mountain vista, or a memorable camping trip. But how many of us, when you hear these words from Mark, immediately find yourself in Orlando, Florida?

Because I do.

So let me explain.

A few years ago while on a visit to my in-laws outside Tampa, my wife and I drove to Orlando to visit an unusual theme park called The Holy Land Experience. The park is a fantastical representation of what Jerusalem was like during Jesus’s last visit there. There’s a Temple, Roman soldiers wandering around, and young men and women dressed in togas being very helpful and directing you to various things to see. And everything is Jesus-centric. We can reenact the Last Supper with Jesus every hour or be a witness to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection at 12 or 5:30. But the experience that I remember most is called the Scriptorium. It’s not really a ride but more of a narrated journey through a series of rooms where we traced the history of God’s word coming down to us. Each room consists of old bibles, pieces of paper, images and stories about how the words of Scripture were first written, recorded, and translated. We got to see pieces of Scripture that was touched by ancient Romans and Syrians and texts that come from Turkey, the Middle East, Egypt, and all throughout Europe. And as we went further and further into it, we got a sense of my role in history as being, like so many countless people before me, a bearer of God’s story. There’s something powerful about seeing how we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

Now, by the time we got to the end of the ride – into the last room – I’ll admit I was a little caught up by the emotion of it. And…that was kind of the point. The creators of the Scriptorium wanted you to feel this sense of history and purpose – this sense of drama because they wanted us to be changed. They wanted us to commit ourselves to following Jesus, to realize that we’re not as good at following as we should be, and to head out into the world to try harder. And so when we walked into that last room, the drama started. The room was pitch black – music turned up – I could feel the vibrations of the bass in my bones. And as the music started to get louder and louder, a voice from on high spoke out. And it identified all of us in that room as bearers of God’s story. We were told to go out, tell Jesus’ story, and be as brave as everyone who came before us. We’re to be as faithful, devoted, and powerful as those first disciples, called by Jesus, 2000 years ago.

And then – at the climax – the walls of the room were lit up. There, in the middle, was a painted representation of Simon (aka Peter) the fisherman. And this Peter – he was huge. He had a great big beard, wonderful thick hair, piercing blue eyes, and huge bulging arms carrying a net full of fish. He looked like a cross between Rambo and the Incredible Hulk, able to beat-up anyone who stood in his way. Peter had the strength and the biceps to be a mighty warrior for God.

And that’s one way to imagine how these first disciples looked. These ones who first heard Jesus’s words – who first followed his voice – it’s so easy to see them as that mighty, powerful, faith-filled person worthy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it’s easy to think that we – as heirs to those first folks who fished by the sea – that we have to be like that too – like some Rambo for Jesus – or else our belief is just not good enough. And if we can’t be that big, strong, incredibly mighty follower of Christ – then maybe something is wrong with us. Because, if we were doing what we’re suppose to do – then God would make us strong. God would make sure we never doubted. God would make sure we never mourned or were worried or thought that God wasn’t with us. We feel we need to be that Rambo for Jesus – because, then, and only then, can we be sure that God love us.

But this vision of Peter, or the first disciples, I believe it misses the point. That image takes these words from the gospel and misses what God is actually doing. Because when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus wasn’t assembling a team of god-believing-superheroes to his side. He wasn’t wandering through the neighborhood picking the biggest, the strongest, or the smartest, to be part of his team. No, Jesus wasn’t calling the best – Jesus was calling everybody – even the lowly fisherman, working on the Sea of Galilee.

The focus of these stories isn’t on who is called but on who does the calling. And what we don’t hear is anything about being a spiritual Rambo. Instead, we hear that John the Baptist has been arrested. We hear that Jesus goes to the area around the sea of Galilee and that’s where his proclamation – his preaching and teaching – begins. Jesus’s message – his gospel – his good news – is that God’s presence is here – right now – whether you like it or not – and this message is intimately tied to these early call stories. God’s presence can’t be separated from God’s calling. The proclaiming of God’s love and presence in the world – the proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, right now – that proclamation goes hand-in-hand with God’s meeting us, God’s getting to know us, and God revealing God’s-self to us. The good news isn’t only that Jesus is here. The good news is that Jesus is here for us – and Jesus isn’t going to wait until we’re good enough, strong enough, or faithful enough to finally meet us. No, Jesus is going to come to us where we’re at and say “follow me.”

So if God meets us where we are and calls us just as we are – what, then, does this “follow me” actually look like?

Does it mean giving up our day job and families, being like those early disciples and literally walking off the job – leaving our dad in the boat – and hitting the road, seeing where God might take us?


Or Jesus’s call might mean something that can be even harder. It might mean realizing that in everything we do – in all our relationships – in all the little interactions that make up our lives – God is there. When we wake up in the morning, yawn, and rub our eyes – God is there. And when we put our head down to rest at the end of our day – God is there too. Because Jesus’s word is simply that the kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is right now. The kingdom of God is happening and that matters in everything that we do. From how we do our jobs, to how we study at school, to even how we interact with our parents and children – God is here, Jesus is present, and we all are apart of it.

Following Jesus isn’t about being a superhero of the faith. It isn’t about being that spiritual Rambo that never suffers or feels pain or who never doubts or wonders where God is. Following Jesus is about following Jesus. It’s about hearing the good news that God isn’t waiting for us to be perfect before loving us but that God loves us first and foremost and there’s nothing we can do to change that. God is in the business of meeting us, coming to us, and being part of our lives even when we’re too busy to notice or see it. God isn’t waiting for us to make up our minds before getting involved. No, God is here. God is present. God is making a difference in our lives now. That’s the reality that Jesus is calling us to live into. Jesus isn’t going to let us become perfect before asking us to follow him. No, Jesus is here, right now, whether we’ve got bulging biceps or not – Jesus is inviting us, all of us to live into God’s reality – to live into God’s love – to live into God’s hope – and Jesus is doing that with just two simple words: “follow me. “



Sometimes it is about you.

And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

Luke 1:43-51

My sermon from the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 18, 2015) on Luke 1:43-51. An ice storm canceled the church service but I recorded the sermon anyways. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Now, there’s something about this passage from John that I struggled with all week. And its about that first verse today – verse 43 – where we hear how Philip became a disciple of Jesus. His whole story about becoming a follower is not even one verse in length. Jesus meets Philip, and he says just two words: “follow me.” And that’s it. That’s all it takes for Philip to become a disciple. We don’t even know if Philip was looking for Jesus or if Philip had heard about Jesus before Jesus showed up. The text doesn’t give us any backstory – or history – or anything. We just get this one sentence. I struggle because it seems so easy for Philip to be a disciple of Jesus – and I wish it was so easy for me.

This text from John is part of a series of stories where we hear how Jesus put his band of followers together. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke – there’s no temptation in the desert in the gospel according to John so after Jesus is baptized, which we heard last week, Jesus immediately starts gathering his followers. The first two followers of Jesus are disciples of John the Baptist. They hear John the Baptist declare that Jesus is different and they want in. They ask to see what Jesus is doing, where Jesus is staying, and Jesus invites them with just three words: “Come and See.”

And one of those two is named Andrew and Andrew goes off to find his brother, Peter, and he invites Peter to come and see.

Then, after Peter, we have today’s reading where Jesus decides to go to Galilee and runs into Philip – who is from the same town as Andrew and Peter – and Jesus tells Philip to “follow me” and Philip does.

That’s how this Jesus thing takes off. These initial gatherings – these initial encounters – are simply Jesus or a disciple of Jesus finding someone they know and simply saying “come and see.”

That’s how disciples are made.

But this is hard to hear because it sure doesn’t feel, to us at least, like that’s how disciples should be made. Even that word – disciple – seems to imply that there’s something more involved. A disciple can’t be someone who just received an invitation. There’s gotta be more. Because, to be a disciple, shouldn’t someone need to have it all figured out? They should be incredibly faithful, maybe living the perfect life, always behaving and do nothing wrong? Shouldn’t disciples have proven that this God and Jesus story is exactly how it is? Disciples – they are people who have met Jesus, they have Jesus deep in their bones – and they are the kind of people we all wish we could be.

Not too long ago ago, I reconnected with an old friend from High School on – where else – Facebook. She knew me at a time in my life when I wasn’t Lutheran, I didn’t go to church, and I was dreaming of spending my life buried in some research lab inventing the next thing that would save the world. So when she went through my profile and saw I was a pastor – – that kinda shocked her a bit.

But she took this time as an opportunity to ask me about God. And she asked me good questions – questions someone might have asked you at one point or another, such as, “How do you know that God is real? How do you know that the Christian story is right? Do you think it’s fair that a child who never heard of Jesus ends up going to hell just because of where he was born?”

She was asking, really, what happened to make me, like Philip, meet Jesus and hear him say “follow me.”

And, if I’m honest, I can’t fully answer it. I can’t describe all the bits – all the experiences in my life that brought me to be here today. There are highlights – sure – those big moments that I’ve pulled out of my history and charted on my faith story – but I can’t share the million little moments, those little experiences, that brought me to finally realize that Jesus had been speaking to me for 22 years. It just took me that long to finally hear his words: “follow me.”

And I believe that we are all caught in our own stories of faith, our own stories of seeing, or not seeing, Jesus. One of the great things about being a new pastor is getting to hear new stories. I’ve been blessed to hear faith stories – to hear, and see, what those meetings with Jesus can be like. I’ve met the 85 year old where God is just a constant presence in her life – like another person just always in her house, the 70 year old who never lost faith even in the face of incredible ordeals, the people whose faith was lost but held together by an amazing community who prayed for them when they couldn’t pray for themselves, and I’m seeing all these kids who are just getting that first taste of what this faith journey is all about. Each of us are on our own path – our own personal, wonderful, and sometimes frustrating journey with Jesus. And, the amazing thing is that none of these stories is exactly the same. Our encounter with Jesus can come in many forms. Even in these short verses from John where we hear how Jesus gets his first team of disciples together – even Philip and Nathanel’s story is different. All of these stories are centered in that encounter with Jesus – and each of them lead into, or involve, an encounter with someone else.

Because something keeps happening after people encounter Jesus. They can’t stop telling people about him. They go out and invite. But they don’t try to persuade. They don’t try to convince. They don’t try to prove that this is the One who will heal the world. Philip didn’t respond to Nathanel’s quip about Nazareth with a reasoned argument or a snarky rebuttal. Philip merely says – come and see.

Come and have an encounter with Jesus.

Come and see how my life has been changed.

And come and see how this Jesus could matter to you.

Making this kind of invitation – that’s our call. That’s our job – because we are people who have encountered Jesus and we’re here to share our encounter too. We’re invited to be people persons – to, like Jesus and Philip, engage in that one-on-one encounter, that one-on-one relationship with another person, where our invitation to come and see is more than just about visiting a church – but is about meeting Jesus.

And in this invitation – we are opening ourselves to see just what God is doing with us. We’re seeing how God is at work in our relationships, how God is bringing new and different people into our lives – how we are living out of our own sense of encounter with Jesus – and how, in a small way, we are the start of that Jesus encounter with our family, friends, and strangers. We’ve been encountered so we’re called to be that Jesus encounter to everyone we meet.

Now, I can’t share exactly how living that encounter with Jesus – what it’ll actually look like. Since all our stories with Jesus are different, just how living as that encounter will look – that’s going to be different for each of us. But the stories of living as Jesus’ encounter are stories that surround us. From our grandparents who shared their faith in words and love when we visited them to the friend who helped us through a difficult time when we needed their hope to survive – and even in the story of a man who preached, rallied, and taught that racial equality wasn’t just a dream but was, and still is, something worth fighting for – those are Jesus encounters. That’s people living out their personal encounters with Jesus. Jesus is using us – Jesus is calling us to be that encounter – to see ourselves as his face and body in the world – so that we are not just telling people to “Come and See” but we are living as if we are that invitation too. Because whether our encounter with Jesus takes half a verse or 22 years – Jesus is there – Jesus is calling – Jesus is inviting us to be that invitation and to share how we have been changed. Our job is to invite – to show others what following Jesus looks like – and that this Jesus has a personal relationship, a personal encounter, ready for others to come and see.



Still Speaking

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:4-11

My sermon from the Baptism of Jesus (January 11, 2015) on Mark 1:4-11. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


It seems every year, around August, an article or facebook post about the university I attended catches my eye. And it’s always the same article and it’s always about the same thing: the swim test. My university is one of the few remaining schools that require you to pass a swim test to graduate. 3 laps in an olympic sized swimming pool – that’s all it takes – and then you’re able to graduate.

This requirement seems simple enough. But I rarely meet anyone who likes it. I remember as a freshman during orientation week, which is the usual time when you take the test, and I remember hanging out in pool house, and I was just one of hundreds of freshmen hanging out in their swimsuits, shyly just kinda milling about because no one knew anyone else – and we were all lined up, waiting for our turn. And then someone called our name – recorded our attempt to complete the test on a clipboard – and we’d jump in. I don’t remember if we all did it one at a time – or if a group of us jumped in like we were in our own Olympic race – but I do remember standing at the edge of the water, looking in. I remember the sounds – the talking – splashing – the looking around – and I remember feeling of nervousness about what would happen if I didn’t make it. Maybe I stayed out too late the night before or maybe the fact that I hadn’t swam a lap in years would actually show. I remember standing at the edge of that pool and wondering why – why was I – why was this huge freshman class – going through all of this to just swim 3 laps.
The funny thing was that when anyone asked why we had a swim test in the first place – no one really knew the answer. I remember being one of those kids who asked that “why” question. Rumors traced it back to a student who, years before, drowned in one of the nearby lakes. Others said it’s a legacy of the military training students use to undergo when the university first started. Or maybe its just because the university hoped that when we left school, we’d at least have one practicable skill under our belt. Whoever you asked – the answer always changed. No one knew why we had to get into the water and swim 3 laps. That’s a mystery. So as I stood there on the edge of the pool and my turn came – all I could do was just jump in.

And our story today about Jesus’s baptism – that’s a mystery too.

Today’s gospel reading is the continuation of the reading we heard just one month ago on the second Sunday of Advent. There we heard these opening words about John – this wildman in the desert – who is bringing people out into the wilderness, into the place where God met Moses and David and the prophets. And John is inviting people to meet God there too. And that’s when Jesus comes into the picture. There’s no birth story, no description of his teenage years, no – in the gospel according to Mark – the beginning of Jesus’s ministry is when he heads out into the desert, like everyone else, and meets John in the wilderness.

And it’s there that Jesus is baptized.

So why does Jesus get wet?

This is one of those, what you might call, “gotcha” questions for pastors – the kind of question confirmation students like to ask their pastors and watch them….well, fumble it. It even happened to a colleague of mine recently. He shared at our weekly Lutheran pastors’ bible study on Tuesday that, about a month ago, a confirmand asked him this question. And he answered it – but the question had been gnawing at him because he didn’t feel he answered it right. He felt he gave an answer – a true answer – an answer that a famous theologian might agree with – but, after, as he thought about what he said, his words felt hollow. He felt that he wasn’t able to answer the question of Jesus’s baptism fully enough.

And that’s because this question of Jesus’s baptism is a really, really hard question. There’s no real easy way to get through it. Even if we point to the difference between what John is doing and what Jesus does – even if we talk about the addition of the Holy Spirit into the equation – or point to the private moment, for Mark at least, when God calls Jesus his beloved Son in such a way that no one else hears it – even if we try to take apart the actions and dissect it, we’re still left with the fact that Jesus was baptized. God’s Son – the guy who is about to teach about the Kingdom of God and heal the sick – this guy who is about to reconcile the world through the Cross – this Jesus, somehow, needed to be baptized.

The question of why is all over this.

And I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers. There’s a lot of nuance here that I don’t get and that I don’t see. The “I don’t knows” about this text from Mark outnumber the “what I knows” and if my Confirmands at class tonight ask me about it – there’s a good chance I’m gonna fumble it too.

But there’s something about this text that’s very tangible – very real – and it’s something we can relate too. And it has to do with what Jesus did. In Mark’s telling of the story, we don’t have any idea of what was going through Jesus’s head. We don’t know what he was looking at, what he noticed, or what he saw. But we do know what we did. Because when he stood on the edge of the Jordan – he walked in. He saw John, went to him, and Jesus felt the water over him.

I don’t know the answer to why Jesus needed to be baptized – but I do feel like I know why I – why we – need Jesus to be baptized. We need him to stand at that water’s edge. We need him to walk to where John was. We need him to jump in the waters – to feel it over his head – to experience what we experience. We need Jesus to experience that mystery because it’s in his actions – in his jumping in – Jesus extends an invitation to us to jump in with him.

Because baptism isn’t just an end in itself – even though it can sometimes feel like that. Even for those of us who were baptized as infants and who have no recollection that such an event happened – for the ones who brought us to the baptismal font, it sure felt like there was an end. I mean, there were meetings with the pastor, phone calls to family to arrange a date and a time. There were cakes to order, lunch reservations to make, and white outfits to buy. And then there was just those silent, and not so silent prayers, that everyone actually showed up on time. The baptism was an event – and once it was over, once all the planning was done, and the water poured, and everyone went home – we’re glad it’s over.

But the mystery of baptism is more than that. And that might be why we don’t hear about Jesus’s birth or back story or teenage years in the gospel according to Mark. Instead – baptism happens first. Before Jesus’s healing begins – before his words of knowledge come out – before he starts showing those around him what true human living looks like – before all of that – comes baptism. Before the Supper and the Betrayal by Judas and the Trial in front of Pilate – there’s just Jesus, jumping into the waters of the Jordan. He’s jumping into where his life will take him. He’s jumping into living a life that loves God and loves everyone he meets. He’s jumping into a ministry that is going to lead him to the Cross. And he’s jumping into a life that is going to be resurrected – a life that is given for us and to us and is with us – no matter where life takes us.

I don’t know if Jesus needed to get into that water but I do know we need him to get in that water so that we can witness that baptism isn’t an end – it isn’t just a requirement we need for graduation – but that baptism is a beginning. It’s a beginning of walking with Jesus because Jesus – this Son of God – this miracle worker – he’s more than just our Lord and Savior. He’s also our neighbor – our brother – he’s one of us, waiting at the edge of those waters that will be poured over him.

Jesus’s baptism is an invitation for us to jump into those waters too – to see where God will take us – to see just how God will use us to love, to care, and to be part of God’s work in resurrecting this entire world. The waters have been entered. The waters have been churned up. With Jesus’s presence – these waters have been changed. And we’re invited to just see where he might take us.