Original Sin

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”

Genesis 3:4-5

This weekend, we will begin Lent with the passages describing “Original Sin” and the temptation of Christ. In a sense, it is the beginning of the story of our redemption, and therefore is a very good place to start.

As we were discussing last night during our JAM program with the younglings, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden. God told them not to eat the fruit of one particular tree and they did anyway. And that fruit, contrary to popular opinion, was most likely a pomegranate. (Apple is an old Latin scholar joke because the word for apple and the word for evil are nearly identical.)

But why would these first humans intentionally disobey the one commandment God gave?

There have been many theories on this subject over the last several millennia, depending on what one wanted to do with the rest of their theology. However, the thing that always comes back to the forefront is that the original sin was, in fact, idolatry. The first humans wanted to be like God. To play God. To put themselves in God’s position.

Idolatry, at its heart, is not about worshipping images. It is about choosing false gods, sometimes including ourselves.

Throughout history, all sin ultimately comes back to this one. There are countless things we place where God should be in our lives – money, power, human idols, popularity, even religion and scripture. Even worse are those moments when we decide we should get to play God with other people’s lives.

As we enter into our Lenten journey, the question we should all be reflecting upon is what idols do we set up in our own lives? What idols do we let the world place at the center of our world-views? Once we identify them, then we can begin the challenging work of removing them.

Blessed Lent as we walk Christ’s wilderness path together!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Before Star Wars…

And he was transfigured before them…

Matthew 17:2

A few years ago, I made a church sign that read, “Jesus transfigured before Star Wars made it cool.”

Interestingly, many of us who love Star Wars likely think of this image every time we hear that Jesus’ visage was changed and on either side of him stood Moses and Elijah:

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

When I shared this story with our youth group this past weekend, one of them suggested, “So Jesus is Yoda?” For which, I am quite certain, all the baby Yoda lovers rejoiced.

Though Star Wars has nothing to do with Christianity, the image is still quite helpful.

The thought of Jesus suddenly changing appearance is a difficult concept for us to grasp. We live in a world that functions on exact figures and the search for fact. The Transfiguration is a mystical experience beyond our ken.

And yet, many of us have had our own mountain-top experiences with God. Usually God did not appear quite like the characters from Episode VI, but we could still feel God speaking and moving us in a particular direction.

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent. And it was placed there because, as we head into the valley of death over the next seven weeks, we need to remember who Jesus truly is.

Jesus is God’s own self made flesh. Jesus is also fully human. If we lose sight of either of these facts, we have forgotten who it is that we serve: a God who is bigger than any single visage and yet wise enough to become tangibly present. It is Christ’s dual nature that makes him uniquely qualified for all the work that Jesus accomplished in his life and his death.

So what should the transfiguration mean to us?

Well, a good start is to remember that once we understand who Jesus is, then we can begin to understand who we are. What we are to live (and sometimes die) for. How we are to represent our God in this world.

Begin there and see how you are called to resist all powers that would keep this world in darkness. See you in worship!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Commandments

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with your brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.

Matthew 5:21-22

You have heard it said that “times they are a-changing,” and yet you have also heard it said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” You have heard it said that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and yet you have also heard it said that the old will dream the dreams of a wondrous future yet to be. You have heard it said that “love is what you make it” and yet you have also heard it said that “love never fails.”

When we come to church each Sunday, we arrive to be with our family of faith and to worship God. There we find a chance to talk about life, to think about who we are called to be in the future, and to wrestle with life’s hard questions.

But when we come on Sundays that we are studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, many of us might rather just skim over them and move on.

His sayings are not easy. And they call all of us out on the ways we, as humans, continue to fail each other and God ever single day.

Throughout his speech, Jesus focuses on aspects of the ancient commandments – such as murder in the passage above. Contrary to how much of the church has used these texts throughout our two-thousand-year history, Jesus was not overturning or throwing out the old laws. In fact, he is expanding them to include what God originally intended when God gave them to us.

So for example, with murder, Jesus says that not only is murder one of the worst crimes a person can commit, but anger is on the same continuum with it. Indeed, if we harbor anger in our hearts towards another person, Jesus says it is as bad as physically taking their life, for we have killed any chance of the relationship that God intended us to have with them. Or, as another wise sage said, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”

In this saying, Jesus is not condemning all anger. Because Jesus definitely got angry. Yet his anger came when people were getting hurt. When God’s purposed were being trampled by the greedy, the hate-filled, and the tyrants of this world.

There are times when anger is righteous. And still, if that energy is not transformed into actions that further God’s kingdom, anger will lead us down a path where it becomes self-righteousness. We will begin to break relationships for the sake of vengeance, which is never, ever acceptable.

The Sermon on the Mount forces us to rethink commandments that have been misunderstood or abused throughout human history. In each case, Jesus extends their meaning to a deeper and further level:

We are to speak truth and call out lies. We are to seek to uphold our relationships to the best of our ability, and not disavow one another for no reason. We are to learn to control our thoughts and remember to proclaim that no one is responsible for causing a sin except the one who commits it. And we are to let loose self-righteous anger so that our anger may be saved for when God’s purposes are being distorted.

The Sermon on the Mount teaches us how we are to live in relationships this world. How to live in the kingdom of Heaven. It is a life full of love and finding opportunities for reconciliation, or at least confession whenever possible.

So, we hope to see you this weekend as we consider one final passage from this famous speech before we enter into Lent in a couple of weeks. Come with open ears, for we never know how Jesus will speak to us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Controversial

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying…

Matthew 5:1-2

These next couple of weeks we will be looking at sections of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Though we treasure the Beatitudes because we think they can give us all the faith we need wrapped up with a beautiful bow (which they can’t, by the way), the rest of Jesus’ famous speech is a bit more difficult to handle.

We want something easy and not time-consuming because we live in a world that is so focused on its own busy-ness. We have lost sight of the all-important fact that the things that matter take time.

Our walk with God, when we truly start to live into it, will take a lot of time. It will cause us to change over time. And it will not be our attitude so much as the transformation of the entire way we see the world and everyone in it.

The Sermon on the Mount is addressing some of the ways that we are meant to evolve when we follow Jesus.

The Beatitudes are one way. And if you remember our sermon series from last summer, you might also recall that they are not a simple, straightforward path but more of a ladder that requires careful preparation as we attempt each new rung.

Another way that Jesus wants us to grow to be more like him comes in this weekend’s passages about salt and light and fulfilling the law. Let’s just say that if any of the listeners to Jesus’ sermon were from the religious establishment, well, they weren’t very happy by the time he was finished.

Why?

Because Jesus taught us that for generations we have been missing the whole point of what it means to follow God. We have been so focused on all the “correct” things in our minds that we have lost sight of God’s central purpose for us. And hearing we have been wrong is not something that any of us enjoys.

So, how do we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world?

We’ll see you in worship on Sunday to find out!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

What Shall I Bring?

And what does the Lord require of you?

Micah 6:8

Throughout the scriptures, there are many different lists of things we should bring before our God – everything from turtledoves and lambs to worship and praise. And yet, alongside this worship-centric model of serving God, there is also a crimson thread that runs through the scriptures.

Since the beginning, God has always desired something different from us than what we would expect.

We are humans. We live in a material world and it makes sense, in our heads and in our culture, to bring things to God. The best of our material goods. And yes, God does ask us to willingly share our material wealth in order that God’s work will be done.

We are also taught to give God every bit of our thanks and praise, our prayers and our words of gratitude. For God has given us everything, even our very lives, and we should be grateful.

And yet, as important as those pieces of our devotion are, they pale in comparison to what our God really desires of us.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we repeatedly hear that ours is the God of orphans and widows, strangers and outcasts. Though the religious establishment may have become so befuddled by their exquisite worship and offerings, God still continuously reminds that this is who our God truly is.

When Jesus arrives, he spends the majority of his ministry on earth not worshipping God in the “holy spaces,” though he does take respite in them regularly. Instead, he intentionally and actively works among the people to bring about equity and mercy in every way he can.

Christ commands that his followers do two things – love God and love their neighbors. Then he uses every encounter, every teaching opportunity, to keep our eyes focused on what that love really means.

This weekend, we will be focusing on a passage from the Hebrew scriptures that Jesus echoed in his teachings. It comes from the prophet Micah:

…and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to live mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

What is God’s justice if not equity and love lived out? What is God’s mercy if not kindness for love’s sake? We do these things not to gain praise from others, but because God has given us everything. Even when we fall short, again and again, God still seeks to make us whole.

We, who would follow Christ, are called to follow in the path of our ancestors, in the footsteps of Jesus himself, and seek to bring God’s purposes everywhere we can. In humility. Spreading mercy. Doing justice.

So, let’s get to work!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

#laterblog – Gone Fishing

Follow me and I will make you fish for people…

Matthew 4:19

Yesterday we looked together at the call of the first disciples according to the gospel of Matthew. It is a strikingly simple account and yet full of important details. What quickly becomes clear is that Jesus’ call to those who would follow him is to be willing to give every single thing in our lives to serve humanity and the world which he came to save. That includes our jobs, our status, our families, our lives.

Most of us are not asked to move away from our families to follow Jesus, but there are times when all of us feel a sense of discomfort with something our family has asked us to do. For example, there are times when we see something wrong with our world and our family asks us to remain silent and passive, rather than to do what we know is right.

My favorite creed in our Book of Confessions is the Theological Declaration of Barmen. It was written in Germany in the 1930s by pastors and teachers who consciously chose to speak out against the rise of the Third Reich and its infamous leader. They were speaking out not only against their government, but also against all of the churches who were actively supporting the regime. And some of them were writing their own death warrants as they signed the document that is now an important part of our history.

Unfortunately, the world has not changed so drastically from the time of Jesus. One key place where it has remained the same is that there is still evil at work in our world. There are still those who intentionally chose ignorance or power over caring for other humans. There are still many of us who have been asked to remain silent as others are dehumanized.

I have not lived as long as some, but in my nearly four decades on this earth, I have seen countless groups called things that make them easier to forget, demonize, and even kill. We must never forget that Auschwitz was less than a century ago. The Civil Rights Movement was only fifty years ago.

Even now we all must make a conscious choice: who will we follow? Jesus – the radical prophet who stood up to all who would cause harm and promulgate injustice? Or someone else?

As J.K. Rowling once wrote, there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.

It is Jesus who is asking. His call is not off in the distant future, but to each of us this day. So the only question now is, what will be our answer?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Down in the River…

“This is my son, the Beloved…”

Matthew 3:17

This coming Sunday we will be exploring what happened when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan river. We’ll not only recall the details we can see, but also those that lie beneath the surface.

The truth about the life of faith is that there is always more happening than what is obviously visible. Not only are all of us paddling like crazy below the water as ducks do, but God is also always moving in more ways than we can imagine.

Because ultimately our faith is not about us. Or, at least, not just about us. It is also, and far more importantly, about what God is doing.

The life of faith is not a lake that exists forever in one place – something that happens and stops. It is a river that moves and cascades and shapes all around it into a new creation. God is always pushing, prodding, expanding our minds, opening our hearts, and extending our hands.

So come to the river with us this weekend and see what you might find.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Photo Credit: Savannah Fraser

Scene Change

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

This weekend we will leave the infancy narratives of Jesus behind us. However, rather than spending some time looking at the Christ’s earthly childhood and teenage years, the narratives skip straight to the beginning of his adult ministry. At the age of thirty.

Just a bit of a difference there.

Over the next two weeks, we will be diving deep into the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan.

This first weekend, we will spend time looking not only at Jesus, but also at the early church’s ever-expanding ministry into the world with an important story of a centurion from the book of Acts. What did this mean for them? What does it mean for us?

Then, the following week, we will take a closer look at Jesus’ own baptism.

Remembering the baptism of the Lord is a wonderful way the liturgical calendar helps us to transition to “ordinary time” – that season in which we spend most of the year. It reminds us that though we do have specific, special moments that define us, we spend most of our lives living in the regular world.

So a question to ponder in the coming days: how do we keep the effect of our “great faith moments” when we follow the daily path of Christ’s footsteps before us?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Waiting for Advent

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…

Isaiah

This Sunday we will celebrate our annual children’s Christmas pageant during both services. This year’s production is entitled “People Look East – a Nativity Play,” and it covers the entire story of Christ’s birth from the prophets through the arrival of the Wise Men. It should be a wonderful time and we are so proud of how hard our younglings have been practicing!

This quote from Isaiah is one that is included in both our play this weekend and in our Lessons & Carols readings for Christmas Eve. It is an essential passage for this time of year for many reasons, but here is one key point we sometimes forget:

Like life, Advent is a journey. It takes time and requires patience. Though we may wish it, we should never jump to Christmas too early. It takes time to prepare – our building, our choir, and, most importantly, our hearts for the arrival of the Child of Bethlehem.

So, for those of you who have been desperate to sing some Christmas carols, it is the fourth Sunday of Advent this weekend and with the play, we’re going to sing A LOT of them.

But I hope you will take the time to reread and truly listen to the Advent hymns we have been singing these last three weeks. Their lyrics are rich and full of meaning that will grow our faith.

Life is about the journey, my friends, not the destination. And Christmastide is so short, because Jesus’ birth is merely one step in a much more miraculous story.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Magnificat Sunday

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… God has shown the strength of his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…

Luke 1:46, 51-52

This coming Sunday is traditionally the Sunday during which we look again at the song of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Though we will be continuing our focus on Isaiah during worship this weekend, Mary’s song and story are worth taking a moment to discuss.

Though little detail is known about her life from the canon of scripture, what we do know is that she was a young woman, of child-bearing age, to willingly agreed to carry God’s own child into the world. The Word that was begotten, not made, before the world began. God’s own self, really.

Popular Christmas music has suggested that Mary was likely unaware of Who she held within her body and within her arms. Yet, scripture directly contradicts this.

Mary knew. She went into this eyes wide open. And the proof of her knowledge comes through in the song she sings to give praise to God while she is pregnant. It is not only a melody of excitement for herself, but a prophecy of God’s promises that are about to be fulfilled. And this rebellious, unwed (as yet), teenage mother sings a song of a world that is completely turned on its head.

The powerful shall fall. 
The lowly will not only rise,
but God will give them all they need.

She speaks of her son’s work and, in doing so, she speaks of God’s work. Work of which she is a part now, too.

Listen to Mary’s song again and see the wonders of what God is already doing in our midst. It is the power of Love taking over. And what a miracle that will be.

Blessings, Pastor Janie