If we look closely at the stories in Luke’s Gospel, we will notice that there are several characters who respond to Jesus’ empowering presence in ways that are without reserve and calculation. Jesus has a way of bringing out the extravagantly impractical side of people such as the woman who bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair; Zacchaues, the pint-sized tax collector/cheater, who climbs a tree to get a closer look at Jesus; the four believers who dig a hole through a roof in order to lower their sick comrade into Jesus’ healing presence; the fishermen who leave their possessions and livelihoods to follow him; the woman, who, after hemorrhaging for 12 years, reaches out from the midst of the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment; and the brave women who refuse to leave Jesus alone as he is dying on the cross, thus risking their lives to bear solemn witness, while other followers cringe before power and flee into the dark corners of the city.
The image of Jesus as a mother hen (as reflected in our scripture for this Sunday) may not be one all of us would have chosen. Why couldn’t Jesus have used, as a metaphor for himself, the image a lion or a grizzly bear, or even a hawk? Chickens don’t have a lot in the way of defenses: no sharp teeth or claws; not even much of a beak. Surely there is a better analogy, something, perhaps that could lash out and destroy the enemy. And yet, this image of a mother hen with puffed out feathers sitting with chicks beneath her warm body is how Jesus describes himself. The power of love and courage over and against the power of teeth and claws.
Repentance may just be the most hopeful word you will ever hear. Change happens, which means we don’t have to be chained to the burdens, the fruitlessness, of the past. We don’t have to be weighed down by the same anger or hatred, the same fruitless failure of days gone by. Repentance, change, requires hope. How can one consider such a thing without believing that a tired, old, barren fig tree can bear figs? How can we begin to talk about repentance
“.Wholehearted” folks are connected to others precisely because of their authenticity, their willingness to embrace what Brown calls “excruciating vulnerability.” Wholehearted people, somehow understand that what makes them vulnerable is exactly what makes them beautiful. They recognize that vulnerability is neither good, nor bad: it just is. But it is essential in order for real connection to occur. First must come . . . the willingness to say “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to invest in a relationship, even when there are no assurances that it will work out, the willingness to breathe into the uncertainly of waiting for a doctor to call with the results of a biopsy. This kind of vulnerability is fundamental to the “wholehearted,” to those people who believe themselves worthy of love and connection.
“Dear Friends, here is our hope. If Mary sings today and in the advent of everyday, if Reba, and Malala and Emma and Sharice and so many others like them, like us, sing, perhaps we will finally know that their song is true and is the song of God’s future, a tense of the verb that passeth all understanding.”
“When Jesus is baptized, the heavens break open, and the symbol of new creation, fecundity, and regeneration enters the narrative, from another plane, heralding God’s new way of working in the world. The heightened activity of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s gospel is unquestionably significant. Despite the portrayal of wild-eyed John, it seems clear that Luke himself is less concerned with end-of-the-world apocalyptic imagery than he is focused on the newness that is coming.”
“Hope, God’s promise requires patience, of which most of us are in short supply. Yet, we all know the development of hope within community takes time. How many Marys and Elizabeths might be sitting here in our circle this morning, awaiting an opportunity to connect more deeply with the people around them? How many long to connect their small story with the larger story of God? How is God at work in our congregation? In what ways does it make a difference that we listen for God’s word in community rather than alone? What is our greatest hope as another Advent season comes to an end?”
“Jesus is reminding us that even as something ends, something new begins. Maybe there is no such thing as an end game – maybe that is the good news of the gospel, for the status quo and for the destitute, there is no such thing as an end game.”
“How do I, how do we, embody love for God in a world that seems even more divisive and hateful than just a few years ago? How do I, how do we show love to people who espouse everything that I detest about human behavior – blaming, shaming, abusive, scapegoating, differentiating words that set us against each other? How do I, how do we stand tall in a forest of hatred, loving God and loving our neighbor? How do we put skin to that kind of love?”
“Jesus speaks to our human atheism when he reminds the disciples and us that what we accomplish isn’t what life is about. Rather it is about serving others, helping others to stand on a level playing field. Jesus’ words of inclusive behavior goes against the human grain of getting ahead, taking advantage, making sure that we get our fair share. And still, Jesus’ love and inclusion of all people, all of creation is a reminder that our soul is not made for competition, our soul is not made for hierarchical behavior. Instead, Jesus’ radical inclusion of the least of these is a divine mantra that we all are included.”
“Why are people in the church today afraid of doubts and questions? What is it about NACCP that celebrates questions and wrestling while so many other churches demand blind faith and an unwillingness to consider questions?
I can’t begin to tell you how liberating it has been for me to ask questions, to wrestle with doubts about theology. It has allowed me to imagine that God is much bigger, larger, mysterious, unimaginable even. Which, perhaps, is what God should be – bigger, mysterious, unimaginable – rather than thinking and acting that God thinks and acts just like me or you.”
“How do we live honoring others for whom God may have concern even when we believe they may not fit into our little group? On a secular level an example that is very real in our country right now is the whole immigration issue. It appears that far too many folks in our country today fear the other and protection of what is ‘ours’ drives the argument. We play the game of insiders and outsiders and we decide people’s fate. On a religious level, we do the same thing when it comes to who the church says is an insider and who is going to end up in hell. At a progressive church like this one it is often easy to point our fingers at the evangelicals and the fundamentalists as if we are the gatekeepers to heaven just as they do to us.”
“Being willing to change is not an easy journey. You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? CHANGE? CHANGE? My grandfather donated that light bulb!” We love our traditions. I love my traditions. They have helped to mediate the faith to us in countless ways. What if they are not doing that for folks today the way they did for us in previous days? What if we’ve come close to worshipping the traditions instead of God they were supposed to point to? And what if Jesus is calling us to put our mission – whether we care for our aging parents, feeding the hungry, opening our doors to the homeless, making our building available for an after-school tutoring program, sharing the gospel with folks much of the church rejects, partnering with the community to care for more of God’s children, whatever – what if Jesus is calling us to put our mission ahead of even our most sacred and cherished traditions? What then?”
“The Jesus movement was not just a personal healing movement. It wasn’t about our personal salvation, even though many would say it was. The Jesus movement was, and is, about social and cosmic implications. What Jesus was and is up to tells us something about the beating heart of the universe. The kind of love and justice and compassion we see both in and around Jesus shows us the final truths about God and us.”
“Life can offer us all kinds of sayings, moments, relationships that can provide us with food for thought. Our gospel passage this morning is offering us words of spirit and life, words that sustain; words that invite deepening growth. It really doesn’t matter what provokes or provides food for thought – what matters is what we do with those words, those moments – do we let them reach down into our very being and move us, or do we try to ignore their impact upon our very lives?”
“As we hear of more and more people who share their stories of abuse, it is crucial that we respond with empathy and grace. Historically, just as our biblical story this morning has often been interpreted, society has tried to divert attention away from those who have abused their power to blaming or at the least undermining the victims. Bathsheba was no more guilty or complicit than any other victim of sexual abuse or rape. May God hold in the light those who abuse their power while also pouring compassion and love upon those who have experienced what Bathsheba has. And may we raise our voices against this abuse of power now and always.”
“Mark tells us Herod tried to worm his way out of this one; on the other hand, he feared looking weak in front of all of his court officials, so John lost his head that night; he lost his head because he had the courage to confront power and politics with truth.
We know of others who have lost their lives for speaking out the truth of injustice, inequality, and abuse of power. John certainly wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. Throughout the ages many have lost their lives for speaking out against the powerful. Barbara Brown Taylor stated “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion – which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.””
“Your church is composed of people like me. I help make it what it is. It will be friendly if I am. Its pews will be filled if I help them. It will do great work if I work. It will make generous gifts to many causes if I am a generous giver. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship if I invite and bring them. It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve You if I am open to such growth and service. Therefore, with Your help, Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want Your church to be--amen”
“Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside, and dark. When you are locked up in fear, one becomes pretty desperate to find some way out. Belief is something else altogether, although it is not what some would have us believe. It is not a well-fluffed nest, or a well-defended castle on a hill. It is more like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge – think Mile High Bridge at Grandfather Mountain – sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hang onto except stories you have heard; that it is the best and only way across, that it is possible. All you have to do is believe in the bridge more than the gorge, AND, there are others who believe it with you, and even some who believe it when your belief wears thin.”
“If you take nothing else from our time together today, take this, I am enough. You are enough. We all are enough. Not perfect, but good enough and as such, we are each and every one of us, worthy of God’s love, grace, mercy and peace.”