Bathrobe Church (This is the text of a video I just launched in Facebook Live)
Hi, I’m recording this because our church service was cancelled this morning due to weather. Ever since the last time we had to cancel church, about a month ago, I’ve been thinking that when we can’t get together for a service, we should have some kind of video available of at least the scripture reading for the day.
No livecast can substitute for the spiritual gifts we receive when gathering together to worship, all in the same place. That said, I believe we should use whatever technology we have to “gather” electronically. Epiphany is an inclusive church and livecast on Facebook or Youtube is simply another way to include people.
I wanted to livecast the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day services (which were celebrated with a gathered church service) for those who couldn’t get to the church. But I didn’t have time to iron out the technical issues, and Barry’s hand surgery prevented him from helping me the way he usually does.
So today, church is cancelled again. And I got the idea to have “Bathrobe Church,” which is why I’m wearing my bathrobe. Just like folks who work from home, if we have church from home, we don’t have to change out of our pjs or bathrobes. I’m using Facebook live on my own Facebook page, because I don’t know how to do it from Epiphany’s page and I don’t have permission anyway.
But next week — I’ll be preaching at Epiphany. I am going to find out how to do livecast on Epiphany’s page, if the leaders agree. If the service is celebrated at Epiphany, that’s where we’ll livecast it. If weather forces us to stay home, I’ll hold another Bathrobe Church next week.
So OK. Here goes. It’s going to take about 25 minutes. I hope you’ll stay for the whole thing. And afterward, I will post the script on my blog: altworship.wordpress.com.
Our Bathrobe Church will consist of the lectionary scripture readings for today, my initial response to those scriptures, a short message on the gospel scripture, a prayer and a benediction. If I knew what the preacher of the day had planned, I would include a hymn and other elements of the service. If this were a communion Sunday, I would include that too. In fact, for my next Bathrobe Church, I will ask folks to assemble whatever juice or wine and bread or cracker they have on hand and we’ll celebrate communion in our bathrobes too.
We will begin with Psalm 27, verses 1-11, which will serve as a call to worship, and upon which I will make no comment. I am reading from the New International Version.
Psalm 27:1-11New International Version (NIV)
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The Old Testament reading for today is Isaiah chapter 49, verses 1-7. Again, I’m reading from the New International Version
Isaiah 49:1-7New International Version (NIV)
49 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, (for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength) —
6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
7 This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
New International Version (NIV)® Used by permission
The verses that speak to me in this passage are these:
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward(N) is with my God.”
That’s the way I have felt ever since the election. That I have labored in vain and spent my strength for nothing at all. But I also realized, the day after the election that this is the way the Israelites must have felt when they were forced into exile into Babylon. It wasn’t only the unjust rulers who suffered under the exile. Everybody did, including the people who were being oppressed by the rulers’ injustice.
So the second part of that verse also speaks to me. “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
In this scripture, Isaiah quotes God as saying that simply bringing Israel back to God is “too small a thing.” Really God? That massive task is “too small”??? This tells me that for a very long time, being a prophet has been difficult for God’s chosen messengers. Telling truth to power, well, to anyone not willing to hear it, is the ultimate thankless job. Even being able to HEAR God’s truth is difficult.
But according to Isaiah, God considered Isaiah’s task within his abilities. The key is to realize that “what is due us” is in God’s hand, and our reward is with God.
Obviously this is not a full sermon. But I’d love to have a discussion about this passage. If you have a reaction to the reading and my comments, please post in Facebook, live or in comments.
The epistle reading for today, also from the New International Version, is
1 Corinthians 1:1-9New International Version (NIV)
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.
7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
If I were preaching from today’s lectionary, this is the passage I would set aside and not read — because at Epiphany we typically read only two scripture passages, and perhaps use the psalm for a call to worship or in one of the hymns.
At first glance this introductory passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seems not to have much meat, especially compared to the Psalm and Isaiah.
But, let’s look at it briefly to see why the lectionary committees might have chosen it to accompany the other readings. The challenge in all the other readings, including the gospel, which I’ll get to next, is daunting. What I get from the readings today is that people in every age, in every culture have challenges and threats that seem insurmountable.
And the people gathered in the tiny church in Corinth were no different. Paul’s letter, which I have realized is the New Testament version of a livecast in place of a face-to-face meeting, Paul’s beginning is meant to be an encouragement. He knows the difficulties they’re facing and he’s telling them “you do not lack any spiritual gift” needed to accomplish God’s goals, and God “will keep you firm to the end.”
Just like the Corinthians, we need to hear this today and every day.
And last, the gospel reading, which will be read in the NIV:
John 1:29-42New International Version (NIV)
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What are you looking for?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.
Herein ends the gospel reading. The word of God for the people of God…Thanks be to God.
OK, if you’re still with me, I have a message I preached on this passage when I was leading alternative worship services at Berea Presbyterian Church six years ago. The lectionary has a way of coming around every three years, you know. If you’re still with me, I’ll read the message now, here in Bathrobe Church. It’s less than 10 minutes long, maybe only 5 or 6 minutes. You can also see it on my altworship web site at: https://altworship.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/come-and-see/
Given that I wrote and preached it six years ago, I’m amazed at how timely it is today. That’s a pretty good demonstration of the UCC’s slogan: God is Still Speaking.
Have any of you seen the Monty Python movie, “Life of Brian”?
It’s a satire, a complicated and funny commentary on Christianity. The main character, Brian, is born at the same time as Jesus, and their paths cross many times over their lives.
There are several scenes in the movie where people try to find meaning in Brian’s life and try to follow him. He keeps telling them he’s not anyone special, but they are so desperate for a leader to help them rebel against the Romans that they read meaning into everything he does. At one point, he loses a sandal trying to run away from these would-be followers and they pick up the shoe and treat it as a holy relic.
The writers of that movie really captured the spirit of the times of Jesus. There were false prophets and false messiahs and desperate people eagerly following this person and that, all over the place. They had the sense that something big was going to happen – maybe a leader would rise up to save them from Roman tyranny, maybe the world as they knew it was coming to an end! An electric sense of anticipation was in the air.
The movie raises the same point that the gospel of John raises in our scripture today. How do you tell the real thing from the fake or the mistaken?
This story begins with John the baptist, who is a different John from the gospel writer. At the time, John the baptist was more well known than Jesus. In fact, Jesus may have been a disciple of John at first. All four gospels begin the account of Jesus’s ministry by first writing about John the baptist.
Some of the people who wanted to upset the empire and take back their country, and their lives and especially their religion, some of those people moved to the desert and lived like hermits. John was one of the more famous of those desert hermits. He came from the tradition of very unkinglike leaders. He was a man of God, a prophet.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that John lived in the wilderness, that he wore animal skins and ate locusts and honey – that is, whatever he could find out there in the desert. And people flocked out to see him and hear him and be baptized by him.
He told them to repent and ask forgiveness of their sins. He told them he was the “voice crying in the wilderness” that the prophet Isaiah wrote about. Like Brian in the movie, John told his followers he was not the one they were looking for. He said he was preparing the way for someone greater than him, someone whose sandal he would not be worthy to untie.
Last week, we read the scripture from Matthew telling about how John baptized Jesus. And the heavens opened up and a dove descended and some heard God say about Jesus, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
The gospel account we’re reading today elaborates on John’s reaction to Jesus. “He is the lamb of God,” John tells his followers. In essence, he says “this is the guy I’ve been telling you about.” This is the one I’ve been preparing for.”
How does he know? John saw evidence of the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. So John the baptist tells two of his disciples that Jesus is the one he’s been preparing them for. Jesus walks by and John says it again, “there he is, there’s the lamb of god.”
None of the gospels give a clear account of what John the baptist said about Jesus other than this. A dove come down, the holy spirit is on him. He’s the lamb of god. He’s the son of god.
But what did that mean?
Andrew and the other disciple, who isn’t named in this gospel, have already been searching for something – a leader, the messiah, someone to deliver their people from bondage. We know this because Andrew and his companion are disciples of John the baptist. They’ve been listening to him, probably have repented and been baptised by him.
They’ve heard him say there’s another one coming and he’s even greater than John. That’s a pretty good recommendation, because John really captured people’s attention. So if John says Jesus is the one he’s been talking about, that’s good enough for Andrew and his friend.
So they take off after Jesus, just start walking behind him, maybe trying to catch up. And Jesus turns around and asks them, “what are you looking for?”
Notice he doesn’t say, “what do you want?” He says, “what are you looking for?” Now, is that because he knows what they want? Or because he is less interested in what they want, he wants to know if they’re searching, if they’re open minded, rather than thinking they already know who he is and what they want from him.
Knowing what we know – that the two disciples of John are responding to John’s description of Jesus as the lamb of god – wouldn’t you think they’d answer with some explanation, like, “well John says you’re the one he’s been talking about.” Some kind of question, “are you who John says you are?” or maybe, “what does it mean that you’re the lamb of god?”
But no, They ask, “where are you staying?” The word in the original was the same as the ones in English translated as stay or remain, and in this passage the word is used five times. Stay, stay, stay, remain, remain. They’re not asking where he is spending the night. They are asking something deeper. Where’s your center? Where’s the foundation of your life?
They call him rabbi, teacher, which is a sort of an indirect way of saying, can we follow you?
“Come and see,” Jesus says.
They do. They go and see. They not only see where Jesus is living, they see his resting place, the center of his being. They stay with Jesus all day. The gospel doesn’t tell us what Jesus said or did to inspire people to call him the messiah, the son of god, the lamb of god.
We don’t know what Andrew and his fellow disciple said or heard. We don’t know what they did. We only know the result. After spending the better part of a day with Jesus, Andrew goes and finds his brother, Simon, and tells him, “we have found the messiah.”
He brought Simon to Jesus, who seems to know all about him already. Jesus calls Simon “Cephas” or “Peter,” both names mean “Rock.” We who know the rest of the story know that Simon, called Peter, will become a follower solid as a rock, sometimes thick as a rock, on whom Jesus will build the church. So Andrew asked Jesus, what is your foundation, what is your rock, and Jesus said to Peter, I’m calling you rock.
But notice that it is Andrew who tells Peter, the rock, about Jesus. Andrew who was following John and seeking the messiah, the anointed one of God. Andrew who asked Jesus, “where are you staying?” can we come too?
It took Andrew less than a day one-on-one with Jesus to decide that John was right. This is the guy.
Think back in your own life to a time when you understood Jesus to be the anointed one, the son of God, however you would say it. A time, maybe you were a child, maybe you were grown and beginning to examine what you believed. Maybe it came on you unexpectedly during a time of crisis. Maybe it dawned on you gradually. Maybe it was something someone said. However it came to you, You KNEW that Jesus is special. One of a kind. The son of God, God incarnate. That Jesus was the guy.
Whether it was sudden or gradual, at some point, you probably wanted to share this knowledge. You wanted to tell someone close to you that Jesus is the guy. He’s the one we’ve been longing for and expecting. We’ve found the messiah.
How would you explain that to someone else?
John talked about a dove. Andrew simply told his brother, “We’ve found the messiah.” The gospel writer doesn’t tell us the rest of the conversation, but I’ll bet Andrew said something like, “come and see.”
And so Simon Peter did come and see.
This is an interesting take on how the disciples “found” Jesus. John told Andrew, who went to Jesus, and Jesus told him, come and see. So Andrew did. Then he told Peter, who also went to see Jesus for himself.
Jesus didn’t hand out fliers. He didn’t go on Oprah. He didn’t ask John to get his followers together so Jesus could make a speech to them. No, Jesus just walked by and let those who saw the Spirit in him tell others. John expressed it one way. Andrew expressed it another.
And when people asked Jesus what it was all about, he said, “come and see.”
So if you haven’t had that moment when you understood on a gut level that Jesus is the guy. Or if that moment seems long ago and you need a refresher, I’ll say to you, “come and see.” Spend some time with Jesus – in prayer, in scripture, in the company of other followers – and see for yourself.
And if you have spent that afternoon sitting at the master’s feet . . . who have you told, “we’ve found the messiah!”? And who will you tell today and tomorrow, “Come and see.”?
Praise God, amen.
I’ve never prayed on camera with people I can’t see, with whoever is watching. As you probably have noticed, I haven’t said anything spontaneous so far in the 20 or so minutes of this livecast. That’s the way I preach, especially if I want to keep it short and make every word count. I’m afraid of rambling or forgetting my train of thought.
So I will read a short prayer and end with the Lord’s Prayer. Please join me, using the words most familiar to you. If you have additions to our prayer, please feel welcomed to post them on Facebook and mark them as part of the prayer.
O Holy one, we praise you for the opportunity to come together in (for us) a new way. We trust that our prayer today falls under Jesus’s description of two or more gathered in His name.
You, Mighty One, who sits high and looks low, you hold us in the palm of your hand. Grant that we feel your love in our struggles, whether they are small and petty or great and earth-shaking. Lead us to do your will.
We pray for those who are sick, that they will feel your healing love, whether through caregivers, medication or other treatments.
We pray for those in prison, whether it’s physical incarceration or the prison of addiction or abuse. Let your light shine in their lives and be reflected into others’ lives around them.
We pray for our world, that we can come together to face and resolve the causes of climate change that threaten your whole creation.
We pray for peace — peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in our neighborhoods, our nation and our world. Not the imperfect peace as we understand it, but your peace, which passes all understanding. Help us to perceive it and share it to your greater glory.
We pray in the name of the triple strength God: God the creator, God the redeemer and God the holy spirit, Amen.
Please join me in the Lord’s prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day your daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Here is my sendout and benediction:
As you take off your bathrobes and venture into the everyday world, know that God is with you, that you do not lack the gifts needed to accomplish God’s will, and that your trust in God is strengthened by God’s trust in you, God’s beloved child.
And may the peace of God the creator, Jesus the redeemer and the helping, healing Holy Spirit be with you now and always, Amen.