That makes me think that we should turn our Bible story around in our heads and give it a fresh interpretation. I was reading in the Merc this week about the volunteers who are hoping to catch steelhead trout and chinook salmon in Alameda Creek this winter. They are catching them at the Bart Weir in Fremont, a concrete barrier that the fish cannot get around. So people catch them, tag them and release them upstream where they can spawn. Meanwhile, many government agencies and nonprofits are working on removing or building fish ladders around all the barriers in the creek so that one day the fish can swim freely on their own. Reading that article, it dawned on me that the best metaphor for making disciples in the Bay Area these days is not catching fish but hatching them. We need to think about churches as hatcheries where disciples are raised and then released. We need to consider that we aren’t here to keep them contained in our churches. Instead, one of our biggest jobs is removing the barriers so that these disciples can swim out into the world on their own, into the ocean of God’s love, where they will make a life for themselves by making a difference for others.
One of the things that happens when Jesus comes into our lives is that he exposes the littleness of our love. And he blows up the boundaries we try to put on God’s grace. Like the folk in Nazareth, we get into trouble when we try to limit Jesus to doing miracles only in our town, for our folk. We beg him to come and change our situation and don’t realize that he’s come to change us. Rev. William Barber has a warning for us. My former classmate at Duke says, “Don’t mess around with God, because he’ll grow you. Don’t mess around with the Holy Ghost cause It’ll stretch you. If you want to stay comfortable, if you want to stay where you are…leave Jesus alone.”
Good news to the poor; release to the captives; recovery of sight to the blind; freedom for the oppressed. This is not a file it and forget it kind of mission statement. This isn’t something Jesus put on a PowerPoint or stuck on a webpage somewhere and then never went back to it. In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist brings Jesus back to it. He sent his own disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” And Jesus answers him by saying, in effect, check out my mission statement. He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” [Matthew 11:2-6] How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah? Because he is doing what the Messiah is supposed to do. Jesus gives us the metrics. His mission can be measured. It can be proved or disproved by what we hear and see.
Baptism is an initiation into the struggle. Anyone who has ever tried to live in the direction of God’s kingdom knows what a struggle that is. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist who perhaps more than anyone in recent memory understood both the spiritual and moral implications of John’s baptism. It was his gift, his calling to invite others into the struggle for the kingdom. He even had the name for it. Not until this week did I know that Martin Luther wasn’t King’s original name. When he was born, he was named after his dad, Michael. But in 1934, the Rev. Michael King, Sr., went on a trip to Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, the Holy Land and ended up in Berlin to attend a World Baptist Alliance convention. Adolf Hitler had just become Chancellor of Germany, and the Baptists who gathered in the homeland of Martin Luther responded by issuing a declaration, denouncing “all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world.” Michael King, Sr. came home a changed man and so he changed his name to Martin Luther King and gave that name to his son as well. [Deneen L. Brown for The Washington Post, Jan. 15, 2019]
This is the crazy plan that Paul is commissioned to preach and the church is supposed to teach. This is the wisdom of God in its rich variety. Now, I’m lucky to have a husband who reads the Greek. I ask him, “Hank, what is the Greek that gets translated “in its rich variety”? What is Paul saying about God’s wisdom here? The word is polypóikilos. Literally, it means “many-hued.” Literally, Paul is talking about the multicolored wisdom of God. I love it. If our churches were more multicolored, think how much closer we would be, how much more legitimate our claim to the wisdom of God in all of its rich variety!
All of us are embarking on a journey called 2019. The question is: are we going to be motivated by fear, by our worry about what might happen to us and to our family, friends, church, community, or country in this coming year? Or are we going to be driven by the desire to know what is possible for us, by the longing to experience the joy of meeting Jesus? Like me, you may have nearly flunked Christmas, but we can still ace the new year. The magi say, “Look up. Wise up. Rise up. Your light has come. Your star is waiting. Be on your way.”
We listened to Mary’s Magnificat this morning. That’s the first word of the Latin translation of Mary’s song in the Gospel of Luke. So I thought we’d share some stories about some of our favorite songs for the season and then sing them to welcome Mary’s child.
So how do we welcome that inner child? How do we make the child feel safe and loved? As Nicodemus pointed out in the Gospel of John, we certainly can’t climb back into our mothers’ wombs. [John 3] But we can reclaim our original connection to God if we are willing to revisit where we lost that connection. Welcoming your inner child is not so much about buying it toys as it is about revisiting trauma, which is something most of us are loathe to do. But if we want to recover our soul connection to God, we’re going to have to go back to where that connection was first severed... We have to go back and welcome that child and love that child.
Don’t let the bad news drown out the Good News. For us grownups who have all but given up, these kids show us Jesus. They still believe life is worth living, the world is worth loving, and people are worth saving. They still believe in Christmas and where Christmas is heading. We could be following these children who are following the Christ child who is leading them and the whole Creation right into God’s kingdom.