Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 With a winnowing fork in hand, he will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
It’s a lot… It’s a lot…right now…
Meet us where we are today.
And everywhere in between.
Remind us today, that you delight in us.
That we are your beloved.
I want to start by saying thank you… Thank you to everyone who reached out, who called, who emailed, folks who literally just dropped food on our doorstep…thank you. Knowing that there are people out there who care so much about my family means a great deal to me. Thank you for the well-wishes. Most importantly, thank you for the prayers.
Everyone is doing much better, most especially Oliver. Obviously, he has been and continues to be our number 1 concern, but he is doing better and our prayer is that he continues to get better and healthier.
This was certainly not how I imagined the holidays going for us this year…but alas…here we are.
Again…thank you…so much…to everyone who reached out in the immediate aftermath with a call, an email, a text…during what was, honestly, a really scary time for us. Thank you. It means more to me than I can express…
It’s odd, in some ways…as a Pastor, I’m so often the one reaching out. I’ll call or text. When something significant happens in your life, part of my call, I feel, is to get in touch with you, ask you if there’s anything at all that I can do for you or your family, I’ll talk with you…and I’ll pray with you. I love those holy moments. I love praying with you.
Pastors are caregivers. And caregiving is one part of how I understand my call. But it’s a very strange feeling for me, a Pastor, to be on the other end of needing to receive care. Not because Pastors are superhumans or don’t ever have needs or anything like that, it’s just that usually, we don’t do it so publically…we have other folks who are part of our circle of care, usually, Pastors go through struggles a little bit more quietly than most…
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded more than a few times of what draws us together as a community of faith. It’s the mutual care and concern for one another. And not just for those that call themselves members, not just those that part of the club, but our life together is marked, is defined, by care and concern for others, for those who aren’t part of the group, care, and concern for those on the margins, those who aren’t thought of as much by the world’s standards, care, and concern for creation… Life together in the community of faith “weeps with those who are weeping and rejoices with those who are rejoicing.” Life together in the community of faith is one where we “bear one another’s burdens” and “lift one another up.”
This bond that’s shared in the community of faith is stronger than maybe even some family bonds that you know. We even sometimes say that about this community of faith…a family…family of faith…
Speaking of family, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Happy Birthday to my mom today…she’s watching…Happy Birthday, Madre. I love you.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I’m thinking about probably the single most important class of my entire 4 years of seminary—the Theology of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. taught by the incomparable—and of blessed memory—Reverend Doctor Pete Pero. Dr. Pero was a titan in Lutheran Theology, and specifically in Black Lutheran Theology…and Pete had this incredible lens through which he viewed the world and he had this saying he would repeat often…”Water is thicker than blood.”
Water is thicker than blood…
So often, when we think of our families, what we hear is that those family ties are what’s most important…you might have your problems, but that blood runs thick…it’s not easy to forsake one’s family…
But water is thicker than blood…
What Pete meant is that in the waters of baptism we are knit into this expansive, deep and wide, and ever-growing family. What draws you and I together as siblings, as members of the same body of Christ, is so much greater, so much stronger, than even the deepest family divisions.
Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be baptized by John, and as he’s coming up out of the water, “the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form, like a dove.”
And a voice comes from heaven, “You are my son. You…are…my child. With you…I am so, so pleased…”
What if the thing we recognized about one another first, and above all else, was one another’s identity as a beloved child of God?
Might we be much less quick to cast stones and aspersions…might we be more willing to assume the best in each other, instead of always assuming the worst about people’s intentions…?
Throughout the season of Epiphany—which is what we call this time in between the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrated last week, and the season of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday—throughout this season our gospel stories will all be about Jesus growing in recognition about the kind of Messiah he’s called to be. And we’ll be pairing these gospel narratives with readings from 1st Corinthians, and talking about the struggles of a community and how it’s hard to stay together or even find commonality when times are really tough…all things that we would know nothing about, right…?
But this idea of call…and who we’re called to be…who God has called you to be…who God is calling New Hope to be…during this time… This is some of what we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks.
Friends, we’ve got a pretty good start, I’ve gotta say. We just finished up a wild year where so many of us had to rethink and reimagine what ministry looked like for us. But I really think that, by and large, we adapted pretty well. I want you to go to this week’s Anchor newsletter and look at the update from Armstrong Elementary. There’s a QR code up on your screen or you can go to your phone’s browser and type in linktr.ee/newhopelc and there’s a button on our Linktree page that will take you to this week’s newsletter. And I want you to scroll down and read the update from Armstrong.
Church, so. much. ministry. is happening with Armstrong right now. We’ve partnered with them in the Brighter Bites initiative, helping package fresh fruits and veggies for students and families that have very limited access to them. New Hope donated bikes to use as attendance awards.
Church, when we talk about what’s next…when we think about mission and we think about all the great work that New Hope has been instrumental in getting started and supporting over the years—Family Promise, East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry, the New Hope Clinic—we often struggle imagining what’s next. Church, Armstrong is it. Don’t forget, this partnership is only a few years old. There’s so much opportunity for New Hope to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ over there.
And, I gotta say, a huge thank you to Joan Keahey, our current Armstrong Coordinator, and Monica Perin, who helped us get started over there, and Jim Uschkrat, who continues to help out as Missions Coordinator…and so many of you who volunteer your time and energy as mentors and reading buddies and ESL teachers and teacher aides…we are making a demonstrable impact in people’s lives.
So what else might God be calling us to this year?
Hospitality? Welcome? Inclusion? Justice? I’ll tell you, the opportunities are there and they are plentiful. The fields are ripe for the harvest, church. What ideas do you have? What opportunities do you see in our neighborhood?
I gotta tell you, family…I think we’ve got a pretty good start to build on.
You already do a wonderful job of reaching out in care. Your compassion shines through.
I see it. I’ve been the incredibly blessed recipient of it.
We’ve got a good foundation upon which to build.
Let’s get to work building this home.