Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/12/2015

Theoretically what we do here this morning is entirely separate from what will happen this afternoon with Ann’s ordination. Some of you will be back for that, some of you won’t; for sure there will be lots of other people here this afternoon who aren’t here now. So what we do this morning is separate but for me it still feels like Act 1 in a day of celebration and as such I think this morning’s worship should help to set the mood for the rest of the day.

But then, to make things difficult, the lectionary serves up the beheading of John the Baptist as a gospel text. Now it’s true that we do sometimes kind of celebrate and take illicit joy when bad guys get killed in movies or TV shows, but John the Baptist wasn’t a bad guy, quite the contrary; he was an important influence in Jesus’ ministry. There’s no joy in this story; it would be pretty hard to work it into a day of celebration.

Fortunately though, the lectionary also gives us Ephesians. Ephesians is one of the so-called disputed letters of Paul, meaning that scholars disagree on whether it was Paul or one of his followers who wrote it, but it doesn’t really matter. Whoever wrote the verses assigned for today, they represent an uplifting affirmation of who we are and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ with phrase after phrase piling up the blessings. It really represents an excellent text for any Sunday, but it is an especially appropriate prelude for a day on which we will celebrate the ordination of a new pastor.

First though, let me press the pause button for a moment and share with you a kayaking moment. I was out on Deer Lake a couple of Friday’s ago. If you’ve been on Deer Lake or even if you’ve just driven by it, you know it’s a lovely body of water, very scenic with islands and coves, not overly developed and it also represents an environmental success story as mercury levels that were pretty toxic have been greatly reduced to the point where it may no longer have to be classified as an Area of Concern. It’s still catch and release for fishing, but things have gotten much better.

It was a nice morning, a little cloudy but with the sun peeking through and surprisingly, on such a nice day, I had the whole lake to myself. It’s never terribly busy out there but usually I see a few other boats, mostly people fishing, but that morning I didn’t see another boat or person. It was just me, some geese and ducks with their young following behind, loons, some other shore birds I don’t know enough about to be able to identify except for red winged blackbirds.

There are also places you can be on the lake where it is absolutely quiet except for the natural sounds of the birds, the wind in the leaves, the boat moving through the water. You’re sheltered enough from the road that you can’t hear any cars going by. It’s hard to find places like that, but one of the nice things about living here is that there are some, quite a few actually, and they’re not too far away. For me, and I know for many of you, whether it’s on Deer Lake or someplace else, what I’m talking about represents a God moment. The quiet and the natural beauty, sometimes the majesty of your surroundings make the presence of God real and it is real; you cherish those moments.

That’s what I experienced on Deer Lake that morning and it happens at other times too. It’s those kinds of experiences that make people say, “I don’t have to go to church to worship God and feel close to God; I can do it on the lake, at camp, in the woods, wherever.” It’s true; those moments do provide a glimpse of the majesty of God and a sense of closeness. The insight I had that morning though, was that, at least for me, that’s not enough. It’s not enough because as awe inspiring, as uplifting as such a moment can be, even as a God moment, it doesn’t provide meaning. It provides a glimpse, it provides presence, but it doesn’t help with questions about life, about who I am, about who God is, questions of how to live in relationship with God, in relationship with other human beings, in relationship with the created world we’ve been given.

None of these are simple questions with standard, one size fits all answers. As human beings though, what separates us from other living things is that we do ask these questions and worshiping God on the lake or in the woods doesn’t get at them. To address them we need the sacred stories. We need stories and symbols because it is in them that we engage the deeper things of life, the struggle to find meaning. The glimpses of the divine that we get in the natural world can be powerful, but meaning is sought in the stories. The stories aren’t an answer book, but truth can be found.

That brings me back to the Ephesians text. It’s not a story but what it does is to bring into focus the person and the story of Jesus. It starts with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which might seem pretty ordinary, but with that phrase, the struggle for meaning is engaged. God is identified not just as the creator and ruler of the world that we marvel at, God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is revealed in and through Jesus and that changes the discussion.

In the original Greek these verses were one long sentence and following that opening phrase the words just flow in a stream of praise and wonder; it almost seems as if it’s intended to lift us to the very heights of God’s presence as Paul or whoever wrote this just overflows with enthusiasm. Our imagination is stretched with words that tell us that before any of that natural beauty we celebrate even existed, there was a plan and Jesus was at the center of it. We get words about adoption as God’s children, words about forgiveness and grace given freely, grace lavished on us, words about being marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, about all things being gathered in Christ and all of this according to God’s good pleasure. The response then is to praise his glory and to walk in holiness.

It’s not a story exactly, more of a poetic vision, but it’s a vision that has Christ at the center, Christ and what has been done in and through him. It’s a vision that encourages us to go further, to explore the tradition and the stories in order to unpack each of these phrases.

Even that though, is not an answer. It’s easy to say, “Jesus is the answer,” but without some reflection that can have the effect of just making Jesus a cliché or a discussion ending good luck charm. Paul however, writes a lot about being “in Christ.” He never explains exactly what he means by that and being “in Christ” is certainly something that can have a variety of dimensions. What came to me in the kayak that day though, is that part of what it means to be “in Christ” is to say that these are the stories I will use to search for meaning. Jesus and the stories about him are at the center, but with that there is also a connection to the sacred writings of the Old Testament that were the sacred stories for Jesus, stories that he brought to fulfillment, and there’s also a connection to the interpretive writings of Paul and others, writings that make up much of the New Testament.

Believing that Jesus is the revelation of God, he is the lens we look through as we engage the sacred stories. Seen that way, the stories don’t represent answers, they are part of the journey of faith. Being “in Christ” though, we say that in these stories the questions can be engaged and direction can be found. Even the story of the beheading of John the Baptist might have something to say, but not today.

Today is a day to celebrate, especially for Ann as she moves into a new part of her faith journey. But for her and for all of us it’s also a day to celebrate being “in Christ” with all that it means. It’s an identity that comes with responsibilities as we offer praise and strive to lead lives of holiness, but it starts with the gift of grace described in Ephesians, grace that is lavished on us, grace that makes us righteous in God’s eyes. In any journey of faith there are still questions, questions to which answers can be elusive but maybe that’s the way faith is supposed to be. Being “in Christ” though, with knowledge of God’s grace, we have seen and we do know the final answer.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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