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



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.




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


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”


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.




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




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11-21-21 Bulletin

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December Pew Points