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12-5-21 — Voices in the Wilderness — Luke 3:1-6 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

12.5.21

Luke 3:1-6

Voices in the Wilderness

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

When I hear these words from Isaiah uttered by John, they always remind me of middle school. One of the field trips everyone goes on in my home town is to the Erie Canal and specifically the Locks in the center of Lockport. As a child you do not really appreciate what was built.

In 1809 President Thomas Jefferson reviewed New York’s plan to build a 360-mile canal from Hudson River to the Great Lakes.  He immediately dismissed the endeavor as just a little “short of madness”. The governor at the time, Dewitt Clinton, pushed for the plan anyway. It became known as “Dewitt’s Ditch”. Dewitt went around the state to raise money, and broke ground on July 4, 1817. By 1825 Dewitt Clinton boarded a barge with Two kegs of water from Lake Erie and 10 days later dumped the lake water into the Atlantic Ocean. [1]

What is wild to think about is this canal was completed before the invention of dynamite, earthmovers, or excavators.  They tried to hire engineers from Europe but no one would touch the project because of how audacious it was. Another obstacle was the lack of hydraulic cement. The only source at the time was in Europe and expensive to import. Two men found a source of limestone that when pulverized and burned produced the lime needed for cement.  The land was cleared by hand shovels, pickaxes and black powder. They build raging fires on bed rock and poured water on the rocks so they would crack.  Trees were removed by something called an endless screw where a rope was attached to the top of a tree and a team of oxen and men ratchet and cranked until the tree was literally pulled from the earth. Another school teacher invented a stump puller that used 16-foot-tall wheels and a team of oxen to pull 40 stumps per day. But the hardest part was in Lockport itself where barges had to be lifted nearly 70 feet up the escarpment. This was done through a series of locks that would raise and lower barges the 70 feet.[2]  This is a method that was first conceived by Leonardo Da Vinci.   By the 1850’s 60% of all US trade was carried along this waterway. If you are keeping count, it took them 8 years to complete the 360 mile canal. That is only two years longer than it took to complete the Mount Rose Interchange.

On this second week of Advent, the words of the prophet Isaiah ring in our ears. Our scripture begins giving us a time stamp. Placing both the secular and the scared along aside each other naming the Emperor, the Governor, the Ruler of Galilee and others alongside the High Priest Annas and Caiaphas. This is a community that is controlled by a foreign power, even Annas and Caiaphas were appointed by Roman officials, seeking those that would keep peace.

God finds John not in the center of power near the hustle and bustle of people. But God’s word finds John, son Zechariah, in the wilderness. This word does not come to priests, not to the ruling elite, but to a man in the wilderness. A reminder that God’s people are a people of exile, the seat of power has been taken from them again and again and they are forced into the wilderness.  Prophets seem to need this wilderness. In the wilderness an old word is made new by time, a prophetic word is made visible for all people. This is the story of God’s love for the Hebrew people, a people who time after time winded up in the wilderness only to have God call them back.

John begins proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There is no clear precedent for this activity. Some argue that proselyte baptism was practiced during this period, other scholars disagree, some point to a ritual washing was common. People would often wash themselves to cleanse themselves from some sort of moral impurity but this is different. John is not specific it is baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Bringing to mind the words of Isaiah 1: 16-17 “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” or the words of Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols” This baptism is something different. It is a new start where our hearts realigned to beat in tune with God’s heart. As one commentator said, “John shows us a renewing God whose faithfulness extends across space and time, overcoming every obstacle we might erect against grace.[3]” John’s baptism is the beginning of something, it is journey over an obstructed path, and a path requires roadwork. We begin that journey through confirmation or baptism but it is a journey that doesn’t end until we breathe our last breath. It is pursuit of the love of God. But the amazing thing is God is the one who does the pursuing.

Have you ever had a moment where you needed to be recused? A moment you knew you just needed someone else. Maybe you were kid and you were suddenly being picked on, or maybe you got into a situation where you were uncomfortable with decisions your peers were making, or maybe you made some really bad decisions and you needed someone in your corner to help fix those decisions.[4] The relief that you felt in that moment — that is the advent moment.

The moment when God uproots those things in your life that need to be uprooted. Those unexamined assumptions, those attitudes. God comes in uprooted trees, splitting boulders, filling valleys, all so that we can connect to the divine presence of God in Jesus Christ.

 

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2020/01/28/800025377/the-erie-canal-as-a-model-of-how-to-build-big-projects-again

[2] https://www.history.com/news/erie-canal-construction-engineering-labor

[3] Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: 1 (p. 30). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[4] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2021-11-29/luke-3-1-6/

11-21-21 — One True King — Psalm 93, John 18:33-37 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Psalm 93

John 18:33-37

“One True King”

11.21.22

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

One of things that has changed dramatically over the last decade are invitations. There was a time when invitations were straight forward — you got an invitation in the mail and you would respond to it either through a card or a phone call. Today, invitations come at you from all directions now, the mail, the Internet, the phone, social media. Sometimes these invitations have surprising results.  I read a story about a girl in England who meant to invite 14 friends to a sleepover but she forgot to mark the event as private and 20,000 people R.S.V.P. d.  Needless to say, her Mom canceled the party.[1] Invitations have changed in other ways as well, invitations have become elaborate, almost as elaborate as a party itself. Take for example a couple named Phil and Alleisha. They couldn’t just send out a paper invitation for their wedding, or as they called it “getting hitched,” they sent out a stop motion video using post it notes. It took three days just to make the invitation.   Or another couple, Anna and Jonny developed a video game invitation. You had to play through several levels of the game before you found out details about the wedding. You could play as either Anna or Jonny and you had to rescue either the groom or the bride depending on your character.  It included several levels reminiscent of the first Super Mario brothers and Donkey Kong.  Unique and creative invitations. Sometimes these invitations do good in this world. At Christmas in 2013, 10,000 people showed up to sing Christmas Carols to Laney Brown. [2] Laney was a young child suffering from cancer and she was now on hospice. There was an invitation on Facebook to sing carols to Laney, people gathered all around the hospital singing, easing her entrance into the next life.

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year the lectionary suddenly jolts us into the passion week narrative as we reflect upon Christ the King Sunday. In our text we hear a piece of a conversation between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate asks if he is the “King of the Jews”. Jesus responds explaining that his kingdom is not what we see around him. Jesus’ Kingdom is different, Jesus is a different type of king, the values of his kingdom are different. Pilate’s kingdom values authority and exclusivity which results in real oppression, corruption, and a mentality of scarcity.

The values of Jesus’ kingdom are so different than the values of this world that it that is often hard to understand them. The church at times has missed this and sought earthly power. forgetting the call to service with humility. Yet Christ perpetually calls the church back.

Christ came not seeking power, not seeking victory.  But instead Christ the King leads us to the ultimate demonstration of love. Jurgen Moltmann reminds us that the center of our Christian faith is the idea that God was crucified. [3] Or as one of professors said we killed God and God died. But this crucified God makes it clear that he is not seeking world glory. If Christ is not to seek worldly glory, we have to ask the question what then should we seek? What is God crucified calling us to? In our own lives and as a Church?

The Christian Century asked just that, they asked several prominent authors to describe the gospel in 7 words or less. The Lutheran Theologian Martin Marty said “God, through Jesus Christ, welcomes you anyhow”, Professor of New Testament Beverly Roberts Gaventa said “In Christ, God’s yes defeats our no”, the late Donald W. Shiver Jr. President of Union Theological Seminary said, “Divinely Persistent, God really loves us”, the Theologian Brian McLaren said, “In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation”.[4] If you were tasked with describing this kingdom how would you describe it? What seven words would you use?

In our passage Jesus answers Pilate by telling him that “God came into the world to testify to the truth” or as the Messages says, “I was born and entered the world so I could witness to the truth”.  Truth, the idea that God is love. Truth, the ideas wrapped up in the Creeds the Confessions. Truth that Christ is King, and that Christ is the embodiment of what is good, true and just in this world. Truth that those who listen to him hear his voice.  Pastor Chelsey Harmon in her commentary on this text said this: “the sacrifice of God for us is not only about us and our need, but even more truly, about our loving God who made and sustains the world and everything in it”.[5] So what description would you use? What seven words would you use to describe the gospel? What seven words to describe the Kingdom of God.

If I were to take this challenge I would say, Jesus is inviting us all, into Love. I imagine God as one who invites all to a divine celebration, a God who can always pull out one place setting, a God who can find an extra folding chair, a God who does not discriminate, a God who seeks the good and the bad, a God who seeks to break the heart of the wicked and a God who seeks to break the heart of the good. And in that brokenness,  we find healing before God. A God who is always inviting.

Shane Claiborne modern day prophet and meddler for Jesus tells a story of a time he was working in India with Mother Theresa.  He says, “ I was working with homeless kids in India. Every week we would throw a party for the street kids. These kids were 8-10 years old, they were homeless, begging all day to survive. Each Tuesday we would get about 100 of them together and throw a party, play games, eat a big meal. One week, one of the kids I had grown close to told me it was his birthday. So, I got him an ice cream. He was so excited he stared at it mesmerized. I have no idea how long it had been since he had eaten ice cream. But what he did next was brilliant, not the most hygienic. He yelled at all the other kids and told them to come over. He lined them up and gave them all a lick. His instinct was: this is so good I can’t keep it for myself. I have to share the joy that is responding to the invitation. Know this day that God is reaching out inviting us all, know the truth that God’s power does not rest in worldly power, know that this day no matter what happens in the world Christ is King.

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/8012043/Girl-14-fears-21000-party-guests-after-Facebook-invite-blunder.html

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529211/Laney-Brown-Girl-8-thousands-sing-carols-one-wishes-dies-Christmas-morning.html

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: 40th Anniversary Edition (Fortress Press, 2015).

 

[4] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-08/gospel-seven-words

[5] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2021-11-12/john-1833-37/

11-28-21 Bulletin

11-28-21 bulletin

11-21-21 Bulletin

11-21-21 bulletin

December Pew Points

2021_Dec_PewPoints_Web

11-14-21 — Heap of Rubble — Daniel 12:1-3, Mark 13:1-8 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Daniel 12:1-3

Mark 13:1-8

Heap of Rubble

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

Church Historian Diana Butler Bass recently wrote the following:

 

I didn’t sleep very well on Tuesday night following elections. It was a grueling, ugly political campaign, and it did not turn out as I had hoped and worked for. After turning off both the television and the lights, I found myself tossing and turning, worried about the future, and feeling sad…

On Wednesday, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. “I’m afraid” were the words I most often heard yesterday from friends and colleagues. Not “I’m so disappointed,” “I’m angry” or “We’ll do better next time,” but “I’m afraid.”

It wasn’t an exaggeration or a metaphor. I talked to people literally afraid — eyes wide with worry, all suffering from sleeplessness…. , full of dread and a vague sense of communal terror…Afraid.

And, while listening to my friends, I knew something else. If the election results had been the opposite, a group of women sitting somewhere else…. that would be saying the exact same things as my friends were saying: they were afraid.

And, when I push past my worries about policies and politics, that’s what really makes me afraid. That we’ve come to fear one another.[1]

 

For some politics has become a zero-sum game with only winners and losers. Some people follow politics the way some people follow fantasy football, hanging on every moment, every word, and at times it can lead to their own personal apocalypse where they feel as though their world is crumbling around them.

I would suspect apocalyptic literature is probably one of the least understood forms of literature in scripture. This lack of understanding is likely why one of the most famous apocalyptic books, the Revelation of John was almost not included in the Biblical canon. This genre of biblical literature uses symbolism, political narrative, and allegory to share a truth. Often this type of literature rises in popularity during periods of unrest, persecution, or political upheaval: the Babylonian Exile or the Roman occupation for example.

These passages from Jesus are no exception. Scholars often refer to this text as the little apocalypse.  It is likely that the gospel of Mark was compiled during or shortly after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in the year 70. So those hearing this words would have likely known of or experienced firsthand the destruction of the temple from the Jewish war.

Jesus’ opening comments about the stones becoming a heap of rubble are again Jesus levying criticism on an unjust system that would take the last coins of a widow. The second scene in our text, Jesus takes a position of rabbinical authority and four of his closest disciples approach him asking when these things will happen. He offers two warnings, that we should watch out for false teachers. Josephus mentions messianic pretenders during this period, people that came as false messiahs. [2] The world continues to be full of false messiahs that want you to place your trust in them, messiahs with empty promises.  Jesus then shares words about wars, earthquakes, and famines, these are not mean to be predictive or revelatory as much as they are a call to sustain hope during difficult moments.

One of the ways I often think about passages like these are as metaphors for the personal apocalypses we all face. A way of thinking about those moments in life when we experience something so difficult it feels as if our world is crumbling around us. The moment when the fragility of life comes into focus, when we realize how precious life truly is and we are left mourning. Maybe the apocalypse is the way a marriage ended or a problem you can’t seem to work through, or an addiction you can’t beat or a child you continue to grieve. Or maybe your personal apocalypse is something different — maybe it is about the way you see things changing around you in your community, in the culture, and in the church. Maybe it is a general worry about the next generation about their values, beliefs, and the way the way they live out faith. Maybe it is concern about what the church will look like in ten years.

This conversation comes shortly before the crucifixion. In just two chapters Jesus will be betrayed, mocked, and executed by the state. The disciple’s entire world will be torn apart, their lives had become a heap of rubble. Yet, when they fixed their eyes on Jesus they become new people. When fix our eyes on Jesus we become new people. Nadia Bolz Weber tells the story of a young parishioner named Rachel. Rachel called Nadia and was crying on the phone. Rachel who had been estranged from her parents had recently gone back home to visit them and trying to rebuild their relationship. Through a tear-filled conversation Nadia learned that Rachel’s parents’ church would not allow her to partake in communion. Rachel had just spent the last year rebuilding her life and attending the church House for all Sinners and Saints. One of the keys to her recovery was this open table that allowed all people to come Jesus. Just about every Sunday for the last year she had seen a woman stand behind the table and invite all people without exception to receive the Lord’s Supper. For Rachel this had changed her and going back home and being told she could not receive Jesus was too much. Rachel gave Nadia permission to share the story with members of the church. After worship Nadia pulled a small group together and told them what Rachel said. One of the members of the church Stuart upon hearing this story and identifying with her pain said, “Well then we’ll just have to take her communion at the airport”. So, a small group of misfits whom the larger church had rejected showed up to Denver airport at 10pm with a cardboard sign that said “Rachel Pater” on one side and “Child of God” on the other. They waited at the bottom of the escalator. Then all together they made their way to the interfaith prayer room.  They spoke about how Jesus was betrayed and how through him we receive new life and freedom and they shared the body and blood of Christ together. [3]

We will all face an apocalypse, but if we fix our eyes on Jesus, Jesus will meet us in that moment; maybe in a conversation with someone we disagree with, maybe through a group of misfits, maybe in a prayer from a faithful friend, but Jesus will meet us.

 

[1] Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage: Sleepless in Virginia, 11.4.21

[2] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 487). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Nadia Bolz Weber, The Corners: On Communion. Who gets the goods? 6.20.21

11-7-21 — The Widow’s Gift — 1 Kings 17: 8-16, Mark 12: 38-44 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44

The Widow’s Gift

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

We rejoin the lectionary this morning. I would imagine if you have been in the pew for any length of time you have probably heard a sermon on this text. I would encourage you as we reflect on this passage to look for new ways to hear it. For most of us when we have heard a sermon about this, I would imagine those sermons probably were looking at this episode as a short morality play — you have the negative examples of scribes and then you have the example of the poor widow. The poor widow becomes a figure, an archetype of woman who sacrifice for the greater good, and while this reading is true I think there is more here and I would invite you to hear this text in new ways.

One of the first things to note is there were scribes and there were other scribes — some were city clerks, some were intellectuals, and some were experts in interpreting the law. Directly before this passage in Mark 12:34 Jesus actually compliments a scribe being impressed by his wisdom and telling him “you are not far from the Kingdom of God”. We need to approach this with nuance. We also need to identify underlying cultural assumptions the text has that we miss. The culture in which Jesus lived was a culture built around honor and shame.  When reading scripture, I think this is one of most difficult things to understand and one of the most often missed things. Most of us grew up in legalistic or law-based culture. We see the world and scripture through this lens. For example, the story of prodigal son is less about rule breaking and more about the shame that he brought upon his family. Asking for an inheritance, in one sense wishing his father was dead, wild living bringing more shame, squandering the inheritance more shame. That is why he thinks he can come back and be a hired hand. So, when we hear Jesus talking we need to be thinking about what people are feeling, what they should be feeling.

The other cultural assumption is about the temple. The temptation is to often think when we hear the word temple we are just talking about a really large church, but that is not what is going on here.  The Temple did not separate secular and sacred life. Goods and services are regularly exchanged here, business is done, and redistribution of wealth also happened where the temple was expected to redistribute to those in need, but that system was rigged.

When understood in this light Jesus is commenting less on her extraordinary gift of piety and more on an institution that was hopelessly corrupt. She is giving beyond her means. Those with resources would have given a calculated portion, she is literally giving all that she has left. We see Jesus and the gospel writer setting up this criticism in Mark 11. Jesus is heading to the temple when sees a fig tree, he reaches for a fig only to find a barren tree, and he curses the tree. The implication for the gospel writer is the tree is barren and so is the temple, a system which had become corrupted, in which its leaders are unfairly redistributing goods and resources. Those who had the least were penalized the most; in this reading this is less an act of piety and more about the horrific consequences of the economics of the temple. The President of Austin Theological Seminary Theodore Wardlaw in his commentary on this passage writes: “We cannot know whether her house is one of the ones devoured by those duplicitous temple officials, but we do know she is down to her last coins. Her husband is dead; she has no voice in that culture, no income, nothing. She is totally vulnerable.”[1]

This is an act that would have put her in danger, she was on the edge, and now she is off the cliff. You have to wonder why is she doing this; is this a case of her being faithful to a larger vision? A case of her choosing this even though it is unreasonable?

If you were to rewrite this episode how would you rewrite it? Would you rewrite it so someone reach back into the box and pulled out her coins and maybe give her a few extra. Would you rewrite it so the system works for everyone so even though she gave so little she would then receive more in return. Would you rewrite it so the institution has an understanding of justice, so that the institution will be more concerned about her welfare. Or maybe we wouldn’t rewrite it, maybe we wouldn’t want to reach deeper into our own pockets and add a few more coins to the box, maybe we wouldn’t be concerned for her welfare.

One of things that we seem to be struggling with right now is an understanding of the “common good”. Back in 2013 ( which seems like an eternity now) Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners Ministry wrote a book called the (Un)common Good How the Gospel Brings Hope to a Divided World, he shares the following:

“ Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion—from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God—a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world.

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, it’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies.. This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good…

The story of the widow is a call to relationship.  A woman who shows her faith in the face of a broken system. This widow would challenge us to consider all the broken systems around us and ask who is this not work for? Jesus could call us to love deeply, widely and extravagantly.

 

[1] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 471). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

 

 

11-14-21 Bulletin

11-14-21 bulletin

11-7-21 Bulletin for Pastor Josh’s Installation Service

11.7.21 Pastor Josh's Installation Service

11-7-21 Bulletin

11-7-21 livestream bulletin