Sermon for 1/26/13 Matthew 4:12-23

Chris and I did something really crazy this week.  Are you ready for this?? We went into Slumberland to continue looking for new chairs for my office.  And we walked out with….wait for it….a dining room table!  You weren’t expecting that little twist in this story, were you?  The thing is, we’ve been looking for a dining room table.  We’ve not been actively looking, but it’s been a back-burner thing.  The table in our dining area now is large enough to seat dust bunnies–and that’s about it.  Plus, we’ve had it for more than 15 years or so.  I think we probably got it at like Big Lots or something.  It has more than served its purpose.

Anyway, we walked into Slumberland and as I was just about to call my search for office chairs as officially over (because, really, I found them about 2 weeks ago at Better Family Furniture), there it was.  It was like one of those scenes in a movie when the main character finally finds whatever they’ve been looking for.  A light shone down from heaven, the angels sang “ah.”  Maybe it wasn’t like that.  Maybe it was the clearance tag on the dining room set.  We talked about it for all of about 10 minutes.  Then we bought it. Just like that.  This was a little crazy because we don’t work like this.  We talk about major purchases, almost too much, research, then we enter into it with great hesitation, and very very slowly.  It took us 2 years to plan our wedding.

The fact that we did this, of course, made me feel a bit out of whack.  I immediately had buyers remorse, even though I really love our new table–it just was delivered on Friday. We didn’t think about this very long.  We just *bam* went and bought a dining room table.  There’s no going back now.  I have no idea what insane purchase we’re going to make next without really thinking about it.

I really enjoy this story in today’s Gospel.  I love a good call story.  Many of you know, but just in case you didn’t, before I was called to be the Pastor to this amazing group of people here, I worked for Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque.  I worked in Admissions and talked to people who were interested in going to seminary.  I heard a lot of call stories.  Stories of how God calls us all into service.  It was one of the best parts of my job.  I got to hear amazing tales of how the Holy Spirit works. And today we get a bit of a call story.  We hear the call story of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  What is interesting is one little word in this story (that gets repeated twice): immediately.

Jesus called Peter and Andrew and immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.  Jesus called James and John and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed Jesus.  When was the last time you made a life changing decision immediately?  How often are we presented with even the smallest dilemma and we take days, weeks, maybe even years to decide if we want to do it.  It’s even built into our society; you normally can’t leave your job right away.  Usually 2 weeks notice is appreciated and required.  Here’s what I wonder…and I’m going out on a limb here because the text doesn’t say this.  But, what if, just if, the disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) were fishing while they were waiting for that “next” thing.  The thing that was going to be bigger, better, and full of opportunity.  And along came Jesus.

Friends, how different would our lives be if we lived in a state of anticipation instead of living in a state of hesitation?  I’m going to let that question sink in just a bit.  What if we lived in anticipation instead of in hesitation?  There is this Jim Carrey movie from 2008 called “Yes Man.”  It’s about Carl (played by Jim Carrey) who, after attending a seminar with incredibly happy people, has been challenged to say “yes” to everything in his life for an entire year.  You could say that Carl was living in anticipation instead of hesitation.  Here’s the thing, the idea sounds great, doesn’t it?  Living in anticipation instead of hesitation sounds almost seductive.

Maybe you think it means you could leave all responsibility behind. You could live fully into whatever life you think God is calling you towards. Living in anticipation means no longer having a “let me think about it” mindset but instead saying “it’s about time, let’s do this” mindset.  Do you want to know what I think?  The idea scares the you know what out of me.  And ultimately what it comes down to is control.  If I live in a life of hesitation, I can control it.  I can control my life.  Now, I know how dumb that sounds.  I know God controls my life, but I like to think that I do, so please let me continue thinking this.

If I live a life of hesitation, I can always fall back onto “now isn’t a good time” or “maybe later” or even my favorite excuse “let me talk this over with my spouse.”  What do I have to fall back on if I life in anticipation.  If I live my life in anticipation, that means I must fully trust God.  Whoa.  I don’t know if I can do that.  I mean, if I give God total control of my life, that means I no longer have any say; I no longer can control what happens.  If I give God control of my life, I must look my own shortcomings right in the eye.  I must come face to face with my own sin.  And brothers and sisters, my sin is ugly.  I don’t have a scarlet letter I wear for all to see, but when I look in the mirror, it’s there.  Every time I’ve failed, fallen short, screwed up, and tried to do life on my own, it’s written all over my face for me to see.  I see a broken and bruised sinner who can only be healed by a cross-shaped band-aid.

We love control.  We are taught that we should always be in charge; we have leaders for a reason. But as long as you’re living your life in hesitation, you’re keeping God (and everyone else for that matter) at an arm’s length.  And I’m not advocating that you change your ways and turn around a full 180 tomorrow.  But here’s the thing: think about the times when you’ve taken all the power in your life versus the times when you’ve given all the power to God.  When did things turn out better for you?  It’s okay to be careful, and it’s okay to be logical.  But don’t hesitate so much that you miss Jesus calling you to something bigger, something better, maybe even something more life-giving.  Drop your nets, let down your guard and say “okay Lord, let’s go.”

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The kitchen table

The Mr and I bought a new kitchen table.  It didn’t happen the way we thought it would, but we now have a kitchen table.

See…we walked into our local furniture store chain, looking for new chairs for my office.  And the magical word “clearance” beckoned me closer. There it was in all of its clearance glory.  We had talked about a new kitchen table.  After all, the one we had, Mr had since he was in college.  The table, as my parents say, didn’t owe us anything.  The price was right and so we bought it.  It was delivered to our parsonage today.  And it already feels “familiar.”  It’s as if this was meant to be our table all along and we didn’t realize it until it was in our house.

And it wasn’t until I posted on Facebook (of all places) that the place of our kitchen table really became clearer to me.  And, of course, because I am a pastor, I can’t just look at this like another piece of furniture.  (No, not everything I look at has a greater theological meaning, but, come on…it’s a table!!)

Growing up, so many of my memories, good and bad, surrounded the kitchen table.  I can see that table as clear as day.  In fact, I can see both kitchen tables that I knew clearly in my head.  Both round; one with a white/cream top, book ended by my brother and sisters’ high chairs, and brown, now with chairs for all.  Everyone had their place at the table. My sister sat across from my father, my brother and I across from my mother.  I sat next to dad, sister and brother next to each other.  Discussions always surrounded the days events, school, relationships, etc… The discussions weren’t always happy.  The meals weren’t always gourmet.  But, it was a place we came to be as family.  It was rare that we didn’t eat together as family.  Even if one person had to eat later because of a sports practice or meeting, usually one other member of the family sat with them. We hardly ever ate dinner not at the table.  It’s almost as if within our home, the kitchen table became “home base.”

We dreamed dreams here.  We made plans.  We did homework.  We filled out college applications.  I watched my mother do bills at the table every few weeks or so.  The Sunday paper was fought over.  My husband and I ate left over wedding cake and opened cards there the day after our wedding.  My parents were sitting there when we told them we were expecting our daughter.  I’ve sat around that table with my best friends. It was a place of comfort during deaths. It was the place we sat when we were told about major job changes. And slowly, a leaf came out.  There were less chairs at the table.  But, whenever we go “home” that is the place we sit–still in the same spots we always sat at (me between my father and brother).  The poor in-laws (my husband and brother in law) are relegated to the bar to sit.

Sure, it’s not comfy or cozy like a sofa or lazy boy, but it’s just as important when thinking about the times of comfort, joy, sorrow, grief, laughter, and love.  And now we have a place like this all our own in our new home.  Our daughter is young enough that she won’t ever know a time in her life when we didn’t have this table.  She will create her own memories at this table.  There will be serious discussions.  Times of laughter.  Games played.  New foods tried. Tears over “love” lost.  Later there will be homework done.  College applications filled out.  Her best friends will sit around that table.  And eventually, it will get smaller too.

It’s just a table.  But, it’s so much more than that.  It’s one of the few places I can go where I can be genuinely me.  Our kitchen table is a place of acceptance and will be open to anyone.  So it is too with the Lord’s table.  When you come to feast on body and blood, bread and wine, I hope it is a place where you can be genuinely you.  You are always welcome at the table even if you’ve never been before, or if you’re there every day.  It doesn’t matter what you wear to our table or the Lord’s table.  Your heart is all that matters.  At the Lord’s table you are fed, nourished, loved, forgiven, and cherished.  So I hope it will be too at our new kitchen table.

Come.  All are invited to the banquet table.

Our new table:

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Sermon for 1-19-13; John 1:29-42

Chris will attest that I am a bit forgetful.  I am a clutz.  I often lose things.  I promise you that my desk will probably very rarely be clean–but I usually know where things are.  I call it organized chaos.  It may not make sense to you, and, in fact, it may drive you crazy, but it makes sense to me.  While I was in seminary, I was told that I might have adult ADHD and the more I research it, the more I believe it to be true.  So, sometimes my ADHD comes out a little stronger than other times.  The point of me sharing all of this with you is this: a week hardly goes by that I don’t say to
someone (usually it’s Chris) “I can’t find what I need” or “I can’t find what I’m looking
for.”  True story: I once looked all around the house for my glasses which were on my
face!
At other times, I don’t know what I’m looking for.  I am guessing that I am not
the only person who has stood in front of the fridge, door open, and said (or thought)
I just don’t know what I want.  I do the same thing sometimes in my closet.  The good
thing is, I rarely do this when I’m driving.  If I don’t know where I’m going, I’ll pull out
my trusty GPS and have it tell me where to go instead of wandering.  I’m all for a good
Sunday drive; but not when I have someplace to be by a certain time.
Jesus asks his disciples, and by default then, us, an interesting question today
“what are you looking for?”  Now all my professors in college would have said this
question should have been worded “for what are you looking” but I am not one to
correct Jesus’ grammar.  Sometimes I wish that the Bible had a voice over or at least
a way of knowing how certain sentences were said.  Because we don’t know if this
was casual Jesus asking this question, or serious Jesus, or Rabbi Jesus, or what…
Now, what is interesting about this confusing reading (and believe me, I get just as
confused reading these passages at times as you may) is that this is the first thing we
hear Jesus say in the Gospel of John.
Jesus doesn’t say “I am the Messiah” or “come, follow me” or even “what’s for
dinner” but instead he asks “what are you looking for?”  It’s an interesting question
because he says “what” not “who” are you looking for.  And just as Jesus did, did he
know the answer already?  Did he know what the disciples were going to say?  Now,
the disciples had already (literally) started following Jesus.  They had heard John
proclaim that this man was the Lamb of God.  In fact, in this passage, we hear Jesus
referred to in that way twice.
I have to imagine that Jesus almost got fed up with the disciples following him
and finally just broke and said “what are you looking for??”  What did the disciples
expect?  Did they expect to see miracles?  I mean, this man had already been
pegged as the Lamb of God.  So, what were the disciples waiting to see?  Now, I am
in no way comparing myself to Jesus but I do love the look on people’s faces when
they are in conversation with me for a while and when they finally ask what I do and I
tell them “I’m a pastor” they then just stare.  I don’t know what they were expecting.
It’s as if people expect me to break out into a sermon at any time.  It’s not a party
trick, folks.
What are you looking for?  That seems like a weighted question.  The answer
could be a simple “I don’t know” or it could be a very heavy and confused “I don’t
know.”  Are you looking for a different job?  Are you looking for a better day?  Are
you looking for light in the darkness?  Are you looking for hope?  Laughter? Love?
Answers? A cure? Direction? Time? Rest? Relaxation? Are you looking for things to
speed up?  Perhaps you’re looking for things to slow down?  Are you looking for the
“you” you once knew or the “you” you’d like to be?  What are you looking for?  I
believe in leading by example; so, here’s what I am looking for today.  Ask me this
again in a week and my answer may change.
I am looking for peace.  I am looking for time.  I have been struggling with time
management lately and I hate that.  I am looking for patience–mainly with myself.  I
am looking for forgiveness–also with myself.  I am usually the last person to forgive
myself, if that makes sense.  And, of course, as a newer parent, I always looking for
extra sleep.
What do you think those disciples were looking for?  We really don’t know
because the disciples didn’t directly answer Jesus.  Maybe they were wondering if
they really found him–if he really was the Lamb of God.  Were they staring in awe
and wonder?  Were they staring in confusion and bewilderment?  Maybe like we often
do and say, the disciples didn’t know what they were looking for.  Would they have
known in if they saw it?  Did they have any idea that what they were looking for was
right in front of them?  Do you?
Brothers and sisters, we live in a world that is constantly telling us we don’t
have enough stuff, we aren’t good enough at what we do, we don’t look the right way,
we don’t act the right way, that we aren’t the best we could possibly be.  Millions and
millions of dollars are spent yearly, maybe even daily, for us to find what it is we’re
looking for and how crazy the world would think of us if we said “all I ever needed is
given to me for free.”
Because as you may recall (I said last week) we are claimed in the waters of
baptism.  God marks us with the cross of Christ forever marking us as God’s beloved
children.  If you’re looking for more, there is a fantastic meal waiting for you at this
table: the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  As if that’s not enough, if you’re still
looking, look no further than the cross.  In the cross we are given everything we could
possibly be looking for: freedom from sin, wholeness, healing, life eternal.  What else
could you be looking for.  Society, the media, friends, family, etc… all tell us what
they think we’re missing, what we should be looking for.  When really, the only thing
we need has already been given to us in the cross.
I’m a fan of the band U2, and they’ve been around for quite a while.  They have
this great song called “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and there is a verse
that goes “You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my
shame, of my shame–you know I believed it.”  This is what Christ has done for us:
broke the bonds and chains of sin on the cross.  Our freedom was bought with his
blood.  Friends, I’m not telling you that you’re not going to go through periods of
searching in your life, or that you may not know what you’re looking for.  It’s in those moments that maybe what you’re looking for has been here all along: cleansing waters, a fulfilling meal, and forgiveness in a cross.