Category Archives: St. Andrew’s

Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020

Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The Second Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany is always graced by a reading from the Gospel of John.  Instead of continuing the narrative from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending on which year of the lectionary we are in, we instead hear from John, which has a fairly unique approach to writing about Jesus.  We know that John is different when we look at the Gospels and see that instead of talking about a birth narrative, we start with this grand cosmic concept…”In the beginning was the Word.”  An acknowledgment of the Christological nature of Jesus to start us off. 

The fourth Gospel then drops us right into the ministry of John the Baptist, preparing the way for Christ, and then on this Second Sunday after Epiphany, we have the first appearance of Jesus.  If the Gospel of John were a movie, I imagine the Gospel of John starts out the way most Star Wars movies do.  We begin with a narrative that sets the scene, explains to us where we are about to drop into the story, then we hit the ground running with Jesus’ adult ministry.

You might ask why the Gospel of John is given this particular place.  Why do we always get to hear from the Gospel of John on this Sunday?  I think it is a question worth exploring; and while you would really need to ask the authors of the Revised Common Lectionary for a direct answer, there are at least a few things we can be fairly safe to assume about the use of John.  Chief among these reasons I believe is that the Gospel of John focuses far more on the mystical nature of Christ, and spends a lot of energy on this idea of Epiphany, of the appearing or manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

John also leans far more on the cosmic reason for God becoming human.  From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we have John the Baptist calling out, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I guarantee that this title being used here means huge things to the people that are hearing it from John the Baptist’s mouth. Recall that the Hebrew people expected their messiah to save them in a worldly sense.  They expected someone to come and lead armies against whichever occupying force was ruling them at any particular time in history.  They expected a strong warlord. 

But John the Baptist says, “Here is the Lamb of God.”  He doesn’t say, “Here is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!”  He doesn’t say, “Behold the general to slaughter our enemies.”  Think about what lambs were used for at the time of Jesus.  What would the, “Lamb of God” evoke for these people but an understanding of sacrifice?  There is little doubt that the author of the Gospel of John focuses on this in a few places, that the author wants to convey that God has taken on flesh in part to be, and I use this term knowing how complicated it is, a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for the sins of the world.

Understanding Jesus as the Lamb of God ties directly to the understanding of Passover in the Hebrew mindset.  The Passover Lamb was slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the lintels of doors during the escape of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh.  This was done so that the Angel of Death would pass over their houses and only visit the houses of Egyptians during the tenth and final plague.  Just as the Passover lamb’s life is given to save the Israelites, so then is the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to save all of humanity from ultimate death. 

Later, in the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John, Jesus dies, “about noon” on the day of preparation for the Passover.  This is the author of the Gospel assigning this time and day to coincide with the slaughter of the lambs being prepared for the Passover meals.  The use of the image of the Lamb of God is strong and from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end in the Gospel of John it is found throughout to emphasize the salvific nature of Christ manifest.

I know that you might say, “Wait a second!  We aren’t even at Lent yet, and you’re moving us along to the crucifixion of Jesus!”  Ultimately, even as we are in the midst of a celebration of Christmas, we must remember the cross.  Without the cross, the manger, the wise men, the whole thing means very little.  The whole incarnational narrative is important and every piece of it touches on the other.  Even as we talk about Jesus’ baptism, the very nature of Christ must be discussed.

Mother Julia Gatta writes, “It is remarkable that Jesus begins his public ministry by submitting to John’s baptism of repentance since the New Testament and subsequent tradition never attribute personal sin to Jesus.  What is Jesus doing in such a compromising situation?  He is emphatically taking his stand with human beings in their sinfulness.  He is defining the radical scope of his ministry from the outset.  It is a position that will elicit criticism throughout his life as Jesus dines with public sinners and, finally, suffers a shameful (sic) death, crucified between two criminals.  His life and ministry and, at the last, his death address our desperate plight: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

In John’s naming of Jesus as the, “Lamb of God” he is calling to the fundamental nature of Christ’s incarnation as one meant to bring eternal life to humanity.  This is God’s plan from the beginning, to bring about the Kingdom of God, to bring eternal life to humanity.  I do not believe there is anything in Christ’s death and resurrection meant to point to God being wrathful and bloodthirsty.  God is the one who pays this ultimate price, who takes on flesh and submits to humiliation, pain, and death to tear the gates of Hell off their hinges and offer life once and for all.

I realize that when we dive into the Gospel of John, there is a chance we can get lost very quickly in the weeds.  It is heady stuff, and calls on us to challenge and think about our faith and our theology.  That is an important part of our growth as followers of Christ.  It is easy to be lulled into the niceties of swaddled babies in mangers, or the general socialized cheap grace that is so often pedaled as Christian faith.  This is our faith, this is why we gather, otherwise, why bother getting up on a Sunday morning?  “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’”  Keep that question with you this week and be ready, because at any time, Jesus could be asking you the same.

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020 Baptism of Our Lord

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

A drunk man stumbles across a baptism service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister asks the drunk, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?” The drunk man says, “Yes, I am.” The minister then immerses the man under the water and pulls him right back up. The preacher asked, “Have you found Jesus?” The drunk says, “No, I didn’t!” The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” The man replied, “No, I did not.” The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time then brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, “My God, have you found Jesus yet?” The drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher… “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

Today we celebrate and recall the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It comes always on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and moves us from our celebrations and observance of Jesus’ birth into his ministry.  On this day every year we hear an account of Christ’s baptism.  This part of Jesus’ life and ministry is so important that you find it in all four of the Gospels, along with his death and resurrection.  Not even the Christmas narrative is part of all four Gospels.  But Jesus’ baptism holds such a significance that it shows up all four times.

Yet, this story contains what I think is a possibly confusing event.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, after hearing any of the accounts of Jesus baptism why exactly Jesus gets baptized by John?  Sometimes we get into a mode of listening and just accept what we hear.  But this is one of those times that you might say, “wait a minute, why is Jesus being baptized if he’s already sinless and God incarnate?” 

People have been coming to John the Baptist, repenting of their sins, and enter the Jordan River to be symbolically washed clean.  This action is one they would already be accustomed to, there are all sorts of ritual washings and purification rites.  It is important to remember that this is also not what we think of as Christian baptism.  It’s not meant as initiation into the body of Christ, it is not tied to the salvific acts of Christ.  It is a preparation, as John says, for the one to come.

But when that one shows up, Jesus, and wants John to baptize him in this act of cleansing, John tries very strongly to refuse.  He knows who Jesus is, and does not feel he is worthy to take this action.  John, as we know, relents and baptizes Jesus.  And again, I ask you why?  Why does Jesus seek out this moment?  We must always be working on our faith, asking questions about our scripture, digging deeper into the understanding of what we are told is important or meaningful to our faith.

Though I suppose if I were to ask you to imagine an opposite scenario, you begin to see why Jesus went through this baptism.  Imagine instead, Jesus walking up on the crowd gathered, people wading into the dark muddy waters of the river, and Jesus looks around in disgust and says, “I’m not getting my lovely white robes dirty in that muck! It’s fine for you all, but I’m the messiah!” 

Of course that is incredibly facetious, and we would never see Jesus doing something like that.  Which is precisely the point.  Jesus goes into those less than clear waters, he joins the people in the mud and the muck and gets dirty.  He is participating in the experience with all the sinners, but it’s more than just that.  This is a physical, tangible action.  God has become flesh, and is partaking of the human experience here to identify with us and to experience the fullness of a life that includes seeking forgiveness for one’s sin, but not because he is a sinner, but because he is taking on our burden.

Steven Driver writes, “Pondering the reasons for Jesus’ own baptism requires pondering what it means for the Son of God to have become a human.  In short, to understand baptism, we must understand the reality, the physicality, of being human, and what it means to say that God saved us by becoming just like us.”

The incarnation of God comes into the world to fulfill the promise that our salvation will be assured, and this moment in the Jordan River is Christ’s action of taking our place.  He stands in those waters and takes on the baptism of repentance so that we don’t have to.  That’s not what our baptism is about.  Our baptism is a reminder of our salvation, adoption into the body of Christ.  Our being washed in the waters of salvation and being sealed by the Holy Spirit is our moment for God to look upon us and say, “this is my child, my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”

In a few moments we will take the opportunity of it being the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord to renew our own baptismal vows.  It is our opportunity to be reminded of the promises we have made in taking on this adoption as part of Christ’s body and to strengthen our commitment to following in the footsteps of the one who took on our nature and came into the world to save us.  Today as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord consider this action Jesus has taken, to be fully human, wading into the murky waters with the rest of us.  May you be renewed and refreshed knowing that the Incarnation has set us free from all sin and rejoice in the salvation that God has brought us.

December 22, 2019

Advent 4 Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
We have arrived at the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. The schools have let out for Winter break, kids are home, families are traveling, presents are wrapped or if not being stressed about, frenzied shopping continues, all in pursuit of that perfect Christmas. We are just days away, but we are not there yet. All too often at this point in the year we have pushed our budgets too far, our stress levels too far, and as you can hear in my voice today, our immune systems too far. We are sold an image of a perfect holiday, a hallmark Christmas in all the fun and wonderful movies we watch this time of year, and we come to expect a certain level of output from others in pursuit of this ideal experience. But our Gospel reading today offers us yet another perspective to consider in all of this. All too often one operates under the assumption that there is one correct way to do Christmas, and any deviation from that will ruin the whole experience. When we think about that first Christmas, when we think of all the joy of Mary and Elizabeth, of the glory of God in this miracle of incarnation, it is also important to remember someone else who’s experience was less than glorious, but who responded with peace all the same.
There was nothing perfect or conventional for what we are told is Joseph’s experience leading up to Jesus’ birth. In fact, here we have a man who has found out that his bride-to-be, with whom he has not yet been intimate, is pregnant. Imagine first, just how devastating that would have been to him. And then realize, that of all the options offered to him, of all the ways in which he could seek justice, he decides on the most quiet, kindest approach he can. In the twenty-second chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, one of the many places where the traditions and laws of the Hebrew people are laid out, it says quite clearly that if a man marries a woman who claims to be a virgin, and then finds she is not, he can have her brought to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of the village stone her to death. So when you hear of Joseph, as Matthew puts it, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace”, understand that he is choosing not to invoke drastic measures or seek the sort of public vengeance that will keep his own dignity intact. And that’s before God even steps in.
I think it’s fair to say that the faithful thing to do, the faithful way to be in some circumstances is neither the way that social convention tells us it should be or usually the way that feels best in the moment when we feel we are the injured party. The whole situation surrounding Jesus’ birth defies social convention, and yet God has chosen this moment, this place, and these people to bear witness to the long awaited messiah. Before Joseph knows anything other than Mary is pregnant, he has already decides that he will be gentle and caring in this moment of hurt and disappointment, but then God’s intervention takes him even further down a road that defies societal expectation of the time.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Now I think that already we need to give Joseph extra points for the fact that this all happens in a dream. Joseph doesn’t get the benefit of a conscious experience, with a burning bush or parting clouds or booming voices from mountain tops. It’s all communicated in a dream. Joseph could have woken up and thought, gosh, that fish I had for dinner must have been off. But he didn’t. Joseph took what was told to him in that dream by the Angel of the Lord and faithfully set to what God was telling him to do.
The promise that is given to God’s people throughout the ages from the prophets, the promise even given to Joseph in this dream is so incredibly huge. This little baby that will be born will shoulder the salvation of all humanity. That is why, through those promises we find in the readings we come to the word Peace for this final Sunday of Advent. It is the Peace of God’s salvation, the peace of God’s incarnation in the world that we look towards in this time of waiting for the messiah to be born, and the perfect peace of God’s kingdom to come in our second Advent as we await Christ’s return.
Peace is, of course, as I alluded to before, something I think we all have in short supply this time of year. I also suspect that if I was foolhardy enough to stand up here and tell you just to go and find more, the most charitable thing you could do is politely roll your eyes. But instead where we find ourselves most of the time during the holidays is trying to meet those expectations I mentioned, trying to create a perfect peace that we hold in our minds and we can sometimes catch glimpses of. Amidst all of the stress and extra work, if we don’t find peace, or love, or joy, or hope, then it makes Christmas a little harder.
As followers of Christ, our hope is in that baby, about to be born to a world that is aching for peace. We are just a few short days away from the day we celebrate Christ’s birth in the midst of waiting for his return. So as we brace ourselves for what comes next, whether it is overwhelming amounts of activities, or perhaps frustrating lack thereof, take the peace that God is offering us as a light of hope to your weariness. Take the peace that Joseph had, to step into a hard situation and be willing to love even though it completely went against what society was telling him to do. Remember that our expectations of perfect holidays are often not where we are going to find our greatest joy. Coming into our Christmas season, take with you the four words that accompany the four weeks of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. In that you will find everything you need to know to prepare yourself of Christ’s return