Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Jan 13 Sermon: Not By the World's Rules

This week’s sermon was written around having a lot of discussion, which we did. Please feel free to add your own insights as to how you see Jesus represented in our world that does not line with this week’s Scripture readings.

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus: Doesn’t Play by the World’s Rules
Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

The Message:

“Take a good look at my servant.
I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
until he’s finished his work–to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands
wait expectantly for his teaching.”
God’s Message,
the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,
makes them alive with his own life:
“I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
opening blind eyes,
releasing prisoners from dungeons,
emptying the dark prisons.
I am God. That’s my name.
I don’t franchise my glory,
don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
I’m telling you all about it.”

(The Message)

In the Christian tradition, we affirm that these verses find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. Can that be? Is this the same God who as some Christians affirm tells us to go invade other countries because of their heathen populations? Is this the same Christ that if you follow and obey him, he’ll bless you with everything you every wanted including a Rolls Royce? We hear a lot about Jesus through different religions, different Christian denominations, and through our culture and media. What are some of the things you’ve heard about Jesus?

Let’s look at Isaiah again. What does this passage say the servant of God will be like and what will he do? How will he act?

How does this line up with what we’ve grown up hearing about Jesus in church? In politics? In popular culture? In the media?

Originally these verses were written for the Jewish exiles. They were to be the servant of God who would be a light to the nations, and show the nations God’s love and power. As I said earlier, Christians very early on identified this passage and the Servant of God with Jesus; in fact, Matthew quotes part of this passage in his baptismal account. The Church is the body of Christ, and we are to be Christ in our world. How does what you see in churches line up with this passage in Isaiah? How about what you hear from either the Religious Right, the Religious Left or American Christendom in general?

Now let’s turn our attention to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

John’s baptism was one of confessing sin and repenting. Also to be baptized by someone meant that you put yourself under that leader’s authority. John was rightly confused when, the One John had been saying would come and baptize with fire and Spirit, came to him to be baptized. So why did Jesus do it? What does it mean that this was the proper way to “fulfill all righteousness”? This is what one of my seminary professors, Roger Hahn, had to say about it:

In Jewish thought righteousness was conduct that pleased God or was in accordance with God’s will. Jesus’ humility in obeying God and identifying with his people is an important lesson to us. Personal status is never a reason to disobey God nor to distance ourselves from the people God loves.

Again we see the servant of God submitting to God’s will in humility by submitting to John’s baptism. By doing this he is identifying himself with the people he came to save from their sins–us. He didn’t let his status as God’s Son stand in the way of obeying God, even if it looked like he was submitting to John’s authority. John, Jesus, and God all knew better. God affirms this was God’s will when the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” and echo of Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”

What does this humility and submission tell us about Jesus? Again how does it differ from other things we have heard about Jesus from churches, American Christendom, political views, and what our own culture has to say about Jesus?

And if the Church is the Body of Christ in this world, doing the things that Jesus did, then what does that say about us? What things do you see the Church doing that does not reflect the picture of Jesus we have in our Scriptures this week? What do you see that the Church is doing right? When have you seen the Church acting like Christ? What can we do better?

Summing up what we’ve talked about what do you think is the biggest way you see Jesus being misrepresented in our world? What is the church’s biggest misrepresentation? In our lives, how are we misrepresenting Jesus? And how are we being faithful ambassadors to Jesus? Think of one way you would like to more accurately reflect Christ in your world this week. Pray about and if you feel comfortable tell a friend about it. Then wait and see what happens. I’m sure we’d all love to know what God does in response to your humility and submission.

Epiphany: King of Just the Jews?

Jesus: King of Just the Jews?
Matthew 2:1-2

In her sermon, “Home By Another Way” Barbara Brown Taylor tells this story: Once upon a time there were three–yes, three–very wise men who were all sitting in their own countries minding their own business when a bright star lodged in the right eye of each one of them. It was so bright that none of them could tell whether it was burning in the sky or in their own imaginations, but they were so wise they knew it did not matter all that much. The point was, something beyond them was calling them, and it was a tug they had been waiting for all their lives.

Each in his own country had tried books, tried magic, tried astrology and reflexology. One had spent his entire fortune learning how to read and write runes. Another lived on nothing but dried herbs boiled in water. The third could walk on hot coals but it did nothing for him beyond the great sense of relief he felt at the end.

They were all glad for a reason to get out of town–because that was clearly where the star was calling them, out–away from everything they knew how to manage and survive, out from under the reputations they had built for themselves, the high expectations, the disappointing returns. And so they set out, one by one, each believing that he was the only one with a star in his eye until they all ran into one another on the road to Jerusalem…

The Wise Men, the Magi, the Three Kings, or even the Three Wise Guys have always been a part of the Christmas story. Normally they are just like us, only dressed in fancy robes. Unless you’re at the children’s Christmas pageant, and then they’re normally in bathrobes. But they are nonthreatening, normally, white men or boys all dressed up with some expensive gifts. We don’t see how different they are from Mary and Joseph in particular or the Jews in general. Or how this would look to Matthew’s mainly Jewish Christian readers. Matthew tells us that the Wise Men came from the East. They were probably from Persia, what is now Iraq and Iran. What was Assyria and Babylon. Why is this significant? Because these two countries destroyed Israel over the course of about 100 years with the climax of Babylon destroying Jerusalem and taking its people into captivity. This part of the world did not hold good memories for the Jewish people.

Another reason this is odd is that these men were not followers of the Jewish God. They probably worshiped many gods, and as Barbara Brown Taylor noted, they were astronomers and astrologers, which is why they knew the significance of the star. Most likely they were priests who used many practices forbidden by the Hebrew Scriptures: divination, magic, and astrology. They were not kosher. Why in the world would they be seeking the King of the Jews?

That goes back to the exile in Babylon. One of the Jews taken was Daniel. You’ve probably heard the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. He was thrown into a pit filled with lions, and they did not eat him because God had shut their mouths. That’s the same Daniel. He was a lay-prophet, and he worked for King Nebuchadnezzar–the same king who destroyed Jerusalem. He was one of the king’s top advisors. Although this cannot be proved, there is a story that Daniel reaffirmed a prophecy given in Numbers 24:17 that “a star shall rise out of Jacob [Israel]” that would be a great king and savior and deliver his people from their enemies. Daniel told the Babylonian mages to watch for this star. Whether or not Daniel did this, one fact remains: not all of the Jews returned to Judah after the exile. Communities of Jews remained in Persia and were there during this time. They knew about this prophecy in Numbers and looked forward to the coming of their Messiah to free them from other countries and empires that had dominated and ruled them for the last 500 years.

Seeds sown throughout the years finally ripened and bloomed along with an astrological belief: when a great leader was a born a new star would appear in the skies. It’s said this happened when Alexander the Great was born. A merging of Jewish belief and astrological teachings merge to send the Wise Men on their way to find this new king.

This time instead of invading Jerusalem, the descendants of the Babylonians, came to worship their new born king. But the Jewish establishment was not so happy to hear about this new King of the Jews. They didn’t even know where he was supposed to be born until they looked it up. The Roman appointed king, Herod, “was frightened.” Herod was a paranoid leader who had killed three of his own sons and his favorite wife to insure his own throne. And when Herod was troubled, so was Jerusalem. After it was discovered that this king was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod told the Wise Men to go and find him, then let him know, so he could go and worship himself. But Herod had other intentions.

The Wise Men went on their way and found what they were looking for again with the star guiding them. It led them to a house–yes a house, not a stable–where they found Mary and Jesus. Then these foreign strangers who were priests who served other gods, knelt down and worshiped Jesus, the king of the Jews. They gave him expensive gifts that would make a king gasp, let alone a poor peasant family. They gave frankincense, gold, and myrrh. All gifts and signs of royalty, wealth and power.

Then we are told that the Wise Men were warned in a dream not to return to Jerusalem but to go home by a different way. And that is where our text for today ends. That is because last Sunday was the Sunday when the rest of the passage is read. Infuriated, that the Wise Men had not come back and fearful of his throne, Herod sent troops to Bethlehem to slaughter boys under the age of 2. But again a dream comes–this time to Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph and tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod had died.

So what are we to make of this King of the Jews? Foreigners who are pagan priests travel a great distance to worship a king that has no authority over them. While the Jews (and Herod was a Jew) are frightened, troubled, and Herod attempts to have this new king assassinated. Is Jesus just the King of the Jews?

According to Matthew: no. And Matthew starts at the beginning of his gospel showing that Jesus’ coming was not just for his own people, but all people. Even the most unlikely of people: like a group of priests from a country that once enslaved Judah and worshiped many other gods and not the one God of the Jews. The people who ought to have been worshiping Jesus and proclaiming him their leader are frightened and trying to kill him. What does this say about the Son of God? What does it say about who can come to Jesus, worship, and be accepted?

As I said earlier, the Wise Men are from what is now Iraq and Iran. What would we do if an Iraqi or Irani–who was not a Christian–came to see who this Jesus person is? How would we react? What happens when people who aren’t like us come to see if this Jesus really is King and God’s Son? Do we let them worship and give the gifts they have? Or do we put certain requirements on them that they have to meet first? We have no record of Mary protesting the Wise Men worshiping Jesus or telling them how they were worshiping was wrong. Can we do the same thing for those, who like the Wise Men, come to find out about this King? It is worth noting, that in Matthew no Jews come to worship Jesus–only Gentiles and pagan Gentiles at that. What does that say to Christians who think that certain requirements need to be met before we let people worship?

And what does this say about Jesus: at this point an infant whose only concerns are being fed and sleeping? Matthew clearly announces that Jesus in not just King of the Jews. He is King to whoever comes to him. Jesus will not be Savior to only the Jews, but to everyone who will come and follow him. That is how Matthew begins his gospel and that is what happens throughout his gospel. Jesus is for everyone–not an elite few. He’s not just for the ones who carry his name and claim him as their Savior. He is for everyone: Jew, Gentile, Pagan, Muslim, and Christian. Are we ready for the Savior who will let anyone come to him no strings attached?

Fifth Sunday in Lent

This a day late, but I was not on the computer much this weekend. My sermon combines the Gospel reading for yesterday, John 12:1-8 with Matthew 26:6-16.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Risky Love
Matthew 26:6-16; John 12:1-8

“Artful Eddie lacked nothing. He was the slickest of the slick lawyers. He was one of the roars of the Roaring Twenties. A crony of Al Capone, he ran the gangster’s dog tracks. He mastered the simple technique of fixing the race by overfeeding seven dogs and betting on the eighth.

“Wealth. Status. Style. Artful Eddie lacked nothing.

“Then why did he turn himself in? Why did he offer to squeal on Capone? What was his motive? Didn’t Eddie know the sure-fire consequences of ratting on the mob?

“He knew, but he’d made up his mind.

“What did he have to gain? What could society give him that he didn’t have? He had money, power, prestige. What was the hitch?

“Eddie revealed the hitch. His son. Eddie had spent his life with the despicable. He had smelled the stench of the underground long enough. For his son, he wanted more. He wanted to give his son a name. And to give his son a name, he would have to clear his own. Eddie was willing to take a risk so that his son could have a clean slate. Artful Eddie never saw his dream come true. After Eddie squealed, the mob remembered. Two shotgun blasts silenced him forever.

“Was it worth it?

“For the son it was. Artful Eddie’s boy lived up to the sacrifice.”
(Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent)

Max Lucado calls this risky love: “love that is willing to take a chance. Love that goes out on a limb. Love that makes a statement and leaves a legacy. Sacrificial love.”

A week before Jesus died we see two very different responses to his ministry of love: two of His friends decided to go out on a limb and show their love for Him while the religious leaders and Judas plot his death.

Simon the leper threw a banquet for Jesus about a week before Jesus died. Apparently, Jesus had healed Simon, although we have no Biblical record of it. It was a risky thing for Simon to have Jesus in his house. Jesus was on the chief priest and elders’ hit list. They were tired of being outdone by a nobody from Galilee, and they had decided to kill Him. Simon took a chance inviting Jesus into his home and throwing a party for Him.

Simon remembered that Jesus had taken a risk on him. Jesus was the one who had ignored the regulations and had touched Simon and healed him. When no one else would have anything to do with Simon, Jesus did. Jesus did more than just heal Simon: He gave him his life back. Where Simon had been an outcast, he was once again part of a community. Where Simon had been all alone, he was now part of a family and had friends. Where there was only death, now there was life. Simon was not going to do less for Jesus. It did not matter what the religious leaders or anyone else thought. As long as Simon had a house, Jesus would have a place to eat, rest, and sleep, no matter what it might cost him.

Simon was not the only one who went out on a limb for Jesus. A woman at the banquet showed her love for Jesus as well.

John names the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. According to John this feast happened right after Jesus raised Lazarus. What must have been going through Mary’s mind as she watched Jesus and Lazarus? The scene she would never forget was before a tomb. She would never forget Jesus calling out, “Lazarus, come out!” And her brother came. Not long before she had been mourning her brother’s death. Now he sat with Jesus at Simon’s table eating, laughing, living.

Notice that Mary’s act of love was not spontaneous. She had carried the bottle of perfume from her house to Simon’s. She wanted to show Jesus, in a tangible way, how much she loved Him, so she planned ahead. Her gift was costly–the perfume was worth a year of wages. It might have been the only thing of value she had, and she poured it out (along with herself) on Jesus. She gave Jesus her best.

Mary gave her best to Jesus, then of all people, Jesus’ own disciples criticized her. Almsgiving was encouraged at all times in the Jewish faith, but there was special emphasis on giving to the poor during Passover week. Gerard Sloyan tells us: “Jesus defends Mary by maintaining that she has done a ‘good service’ or work. The rabbis discussed the relative importance of two kinds of “good works”: giving money to the poor and burying the dead. The latter was given a higher priority, because it could not, like almsgiving, be done at any time but only at the required time, and also because it involved personal service, not an impersonal gift of money.” Jesus simply recognizes “that giving to the poor is an ongoing obligation, not one that has to be done at the right time or not at all.” Mary “has performed the superior ‘good work’ by preparing his body for burial at the right time” (John). Jesus quickly defended her act of love, and promised that she would not be forgotten for expressing risky love.

Notice the sharp contrasts between Mary and Judas. Mary lavishes her money on a gift for her Master; Judas bargains away his teacher for a measly thirty pieces of silver. Judas the one who should be risking all to serve Jesus sells Him out because Jesus is not the Messiah he expected. Mary has only seen some of Jesus’ miracles and heard some of His teachings. Judas has seen and heard all of them. Judas is part of the twelve; Mary cannot be because she is a woman. And yet it is Mary who realizes that Jesus means what he says: He is going to die. In a prophetic act, she prepares Him for His death while Judas makes sure it happens.

In this passage, we see four responses to Christ: 1) the plotting of the religious leaders to kill him; 2) the sacrificial response of love from Simon and Mary; 3) the pettiness of the disciples; and 4) the betrayal of Judas. And how about us? Do we respond to Jesus with outright rejection as did the leaders; with the pettiness of the disciples; with calculated self-interest as did Judas; or with an outpouring of our love as did Mary and Simon?

As we come to the close of Lent and look forward to the Passion week, which will start next Sunday, Palm Sunday Who are we? Are we the religious leaders who refuse to let Jesus shows us what it really means to follow God? Are the disciples: it’s okay to give some, but not too much? After all someone might take advantage of us. Are we Judas: do we calculate how much we need to obey in order to get Jesus to do what we whant him to? When Jesus turn out not to be what we think he should be, do we walk away? Or are we Mary and Simons? Willing to give Jesus the best of all we have and pour out our love, time, and possession on him?

Traditionally Lent is a time to be generous: to reach out and minister to those who suffer. To minister to the poor who are still with us. To take seriously Jesus’ words that whatever we do for the least of us, we do for him. In two weeks we will be celebrating His resurrection. Until then what will we do? How will we show the love which Mary and Simon did? Or will we be petty with our time and resources as the disciples were? Or will we be like Judas and only perform an act with something in it for us? I don’t know who the lepers and poor are in your day-to-day life. But I do know there are people all around us who need to see the risky love that Simon and Mary showed Jesus. As we look to the Crucifixion: the ultimate act of risky love, God calls us to share that love with those around us: our family, friends, neighbors, and our enemies. So make that phone call, write that note, go out and have coffee. Remember that “some day” may never come. And when you wonder: Does risky love really work? Just ask the son of Artful Eddie. “Had Eddie lived to see his son Butch grow up, he would have been proud.

“He would have been proud of Butch’s appointment to Annapolis. He would have been proud of the commissioning as a World War II Navy pilot. He would have been proud as he read of his son downing five bombers in the Pacific night and saving the lives of hundreds of crewmen on the carrier Lexington. The name was cleared. The Congressional Medal of Honor which Butch received was proof.

When people say the name O’Hare here in Chicago, they don’t think gangsters–they think aviation heroism. Think about it the next time you fly into the airport named after the son of a gangster gone good. The son of Eddie O’Hare.” (And the Angels Were Silent)

And if you are still wondering if risky love is worth the price, I have two words: The Resurrection.

The picture of O’Hare International is from Virtual Tourist.