Sermon 4 Epiphany, Yr C

4 Epiphany Yr C, 28/01/2007

Lk 4:21-30

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Jesus in Nazareth”

 

A man wrote into Reader’s Digest with an embarrassing story about his former boss. This gentleman was just stepping out of the shower one evening when his wife called and asked him to run down to the basement and turn off the iron she had accidentally left on. Without bothering to grab a towel or robe, the man headed down to the basement. Just as he reached the bottom stair, the lights came on and a dozen friends and colleagues jumped out and shouted, “Surprise!” His wife had planned a secret party for the man’s 40th birthday. 1

This kind of surprise is indeed a shock to the system, is it not? If I were that poor fellow, I’d have been very embarrassed about such an incident. If I were a member of that party crowd, I’d also be rather surprised and shocked, at seeing that poor fellow in his birthday suit.

A similar type of surprise and shock was what that synagogue crowd most likely experienced when their hometown boy, Jesus, read the Isaiah scroll portion from chapters fifty-eight and sixty-one, and then said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” According to Luke, they seemed rather impressed with this Jesus. Maybe he read or chanted the text without flaw; with right emphasis in the right places, in a pleasing modular tone, and so forth. At first, hearing those words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled…” the people perhaps felt proud of themselves and that Jesus was complimenting them, something along the lines of “We are the greatest!” However, when others said “Wait a minute, this Jesus is Joe and Mary’s son, he’s no big deal, why are some of you so taken with him?”

To add insult to injury, Jesus agitates the crowd more with his witty proverbs saying ‘Doctor cure yourself!’ and accusing them of doubting him and only looking for an entertaining miracle show, further quoting the proverb of rejection “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” If that wasn’t enough to get everybody’s wig out of joint, Jesus goes on to remind his audience of an Elijah story and an Elisha story, from the books of Kings. In both stories, he tells them, “don’t you remember that God sent Elijah to help a Gentile widow and Elisha helped an enemy Gentile army general.”

Now this was too much for his hometown audience. How dare this Jesus, this hometown boy preach like this to us! Who does he think he is? Him the Messiah and fulfiller of Isaiah’s prophecy? No way! He’s only a mislead carpenter’s son turned into a crazy preacher! What’s all this stuff about God accepting the Gentiles? Doesn’t he know that we’re God’s chosen people? If the Messiah comes, he’s coming for us. He’s going to favour us, not the Gentiles. He can’t be the Messiah; he’s not even a true prophet. Away with him!

As we consider this story are there truths that apply to us? I believe the answer is yes. For example, with regards to the proverb ‘Doctor, cure yourself,’ I remember the story of a doctor that was aired on a television program several years ago. The program focussed on skin cancer and the dangers of sun tanning. One medical doctor knew a lot about the high risks of skin cancer and sun tanning, yet she knowingly exposed herself to the sun because she wanted a tan. Sadly, the inevitable happened, she was diagnosed with skin cancer and died of it. This proverb, although a rather cynical remark in the context of today’s gospel, is quite true to real life. Some of you may also know of other medical doctors who, although are in the health care profession and experts in their field—yet, they sometimes sadly fail to care for their personal health. The same on occasion applies to other professions and trades as well. For example, the lawyer may focus so much on the wills of his or her clients that they neglect to make out their own will. The mechanic may be so busy fixing everyone else’s vehicles that they neglect their own. Is this proverb also true of us? However, in the case of Jesus the proverb is not true in that he modelled perfect health for others. He was full of divine energy, abundant life; he lived life perfectly to its very fullest. He epitomised health and well-being, from him flowed the perfect peace of God.

In the second proverb, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” I have observed this truth on more than one occasion. Here’s one example. Recently, my seminary in Saskatoon organised a search committee to facilitate the process of choosing a new seminary president. At least one or two or possibly more Canadian born candidates applied for the position. However, the search committee did not make a decision. Some time later, the search committee reconvened, advertised again for the position, and chose someone who was not Canadian born. Why is it that we—and I don’t think this is limited to Jews of Jesus’ day or contemporary Canadians!—humans reject the person from our hometown? Are we not the same as that crowd in the Nazareth synagogue who rejected Jesus? Does, as the old saw puts it, familiarity breed contempt? Perhaps. When I think of all the pastors I know, I cannot recall one who has been called to her or his hometown parish.

Is there not a great irony here in our gospel story? On the one hand, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” On the other hand, Jesus’ message by citing the two stories of Elijah and Elisha emphasise the importance of God’s grace for the Gentiles. Jesus did not come only as the Messiah of the Jews. Rather, Jesus is the Messiah of all peoples, every race, and each ethnic background. God loves and accepts outsiders as much as insiders. This offends those who believe they are the chosen people and because of their being chosen therefore deserve to be privileged. Are we not better than those non-Christians or non-Lutherans? Jesus is saying that we are all God’s children and equal in God’s eyes. God loves and has chosen us all, regardless of our background. I love the following story.

During World War I, a Protestant chaplain with the American troops in Italy became a friend of a local Roman Catholic priest. In time, the Protestant chaplain moved on with his unit. The enemy killed him. The priest heard about his friend’s death. He asked the military authorities for permission to bury his friend’s body in his church cemetery. The army gave permission. But the priest ran into a problem with his own Roman Catholic Church authorities. They were sympathetic, but they said they could not approve the burial of a non-Catholic body in a Catholic cemetery. So, the priest buried his friend’s body just outside the cemetery fence.

Years later, an American veteran made a sentimental journey back to Italy. He knew what had happened in the village. He visited the old priest who was still the pastor of the church in that place. The first thing the veteran did was to ask to see the grave of the Protestant chaplain. When they walked out to the cemetery, the veteran was surprised to find the grave was now inside the fence. “Ah,” he said, “I see you got permission to move the body.” “No,” said the priest. “They told me where I couldn’t bury the body. But nobody ever told me I couldn’t move the fence!” 2

Jesus came into the world to “move the fence.” He’s still “moving the fence.” He would like everyone to be inside the fence. Whether we are insiders or outsiders, Jews or Gentiles, male or female, rich or poor, we are all chosen by God. God loves us and offers us his grace to one and all. For that, thanks be to God. Amen.

 

1 “Life in These United States,” Readers Digest, Mar. 1997, p. 84.2 Emphasis online.

Sermon 3 Epiphany, Yr C

3 Epiphany Yr C, 21/01/2007

Neh 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Understanding the Scriptures”

 

William Lamb Melbourne served as British prime minister in 1834, and again from 1835-41. He developed a strong distaste for religious zeal. Having been forced to sit through an evangelical sermon on the consequences of sin, he grumbled, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade private life!”

The problem with Israel, by contrast, was that the people of God were guilty of exactly the opposite. True religion was so far from their experience, a fresh reading by Ezra from scripture overwhelmed them.1

For around one-hundred-and-forty years, Israel had lived in Babylonian exile. Jerusalem was sacked and destroyed by the Babylonians. The people were alienated from the LORD God. Their faith was tried and tested, they were unable and perhaps in some cases at least, unwilling to continue practicing their faith in a foreign land. Eventually however, God was at work to change the political scene and they were permitted to return to the Promised Land. Once they arrived, under the leadership of governor Nehemiah, they rebuilt Jerusalem. Now, with Jerusalem rebuilt, the people gather in the public square near the Water Gate for a national covenant renewal celebration.

The scribe-scholar, priest Ezra unrolled a Torah scroll, and standing on an elevated platform-pulpit, read out loud from “the book of the law of Moses…from early morning until midday.” Wow! Did you catch that? Ezra read the Torah out loud from early morning until midday, that was around five or six hours of steady reading and standing. In our present context, that’s certainly a long time to read and stand! Although one of the things the Canadian Bible Society encourages is the public reading of the Bible as an event to unite churches, celebrate God’s Word, and reach out to people. It seems that after their time in exile the Israelites were now in a state of being which was more receptive towards and hungry and thirsty for God’s Word. Would that that might be the case for more people today!

In our day, the Scripture has been long neglected by God’s people. Many Christians are nearly illiterate when it comes to the Scriptures. One of the biblical correctives we hear in this story is to get back to the Bible.

The story is told of the pastor who visited a Sunday school class one day. “Question my students all you like,” said the teacher. “Who broke down the walls of Jericho?” the pastor asked. Johnny quickly responded, “Not me. I didn’t do it, pastor.” The pastor with a pained look said to the teacher, “Is this kind of response typical in this class?” The teacher said defensively, “Pastor, I know Johnny. If he said he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it.”

The dazed pastor sought out the Sunday school superintendent and told him the story. He replied: “That is our best class. I’m sure no one in the class is guilty.” A few days later the pastor reported the incident to the official board. The treasurer quickly spoke up: “Pastor, I move that we pay for the damage and charge it to upkeep.” There certainly is a great need to improve our biblical knowledge!2

Although this story drives home the point for the need to improve biblical knowledge and literacy. I think it also makes a fine point about the misunderstandings people can draw by failing to listen to and interpret words with care. In our first lesson today, we are told: “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” In other words they listened with care for five or six hours to the reading of God’s Word. The people were receptive, and teachable, they had open hearts and minds—which is very important if we are going to learn and grow in God’s Word.

What is it that helps us to keep learning and growing in God’s Word? First and foremost, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit freely lives, works and moves within and among us to produce fruit and gifts that help us learn and grow. We cannot control the Holy Spirit’s work, however we can pray with a deep desire for the Holy Spirit’s gifts and fruit so that we can continue to learn and grow. Without the Holy Spirit’s work and presence within and among us, we shall not be able to learn and grow in God’s Word.

Secondly, it is important to examine our attitude towards Scripture. Do we treat Scripture with disrespect or indifference? Do we reduce Scripture to merely world literature to be read and accepted as any other works of world literature? Or, on the other extreme, do we fall into the misguided view of the fundamentalist Christians who worship the Scriptures equally as much if not more than God? We need to be on guard not to engage in the sin of bibliolatry, of making the Scriptures into an idol detracting us from God. Here I think we can learn from people like Professor Emil Brunner, who once said: “Let us read the Bible, thinking constantly of our daily lives, and let us live our lives thinking constantly of the Bible.” Along these lines, Lutheran theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard also offered the following words of wisdom, to paraphrase him: “The Scriptures are highway signs and Christ is the way.” Kierkegaard also viewed the Bible in a very subjective manner. He believed that when he was reading the Bible, the words were as if God was speaking directly to him. Or, to put it a little differently, the Bible is God’s book of life and love addressed to us. In our first lesson today surely that is the attitude the shines forth as we learn how attentive the people are to God’s Word and how it produces in them a humility and repentance as well as joy and celebration.

Thirdly, as we learn from our first lesson today, the Scriptures cannot merely be read always “at face value” without interpretation. Anyone who says they can read Scripture in this way is wrong. Scripture needs to be interpreted. We all interpret Scripture. For example, in Isaiah chapter six, in the Revised Standard Version, of verse one, we read: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple.” Now I don’t think the writer was speaking of a train on a railroad track here—indeed no such trains existed at that time in history. Rather, in what the writer is referring to here is the Lord’s robe. Another example of interpreting the Bible is Jesus’ reference to cutting off sinful hands and plucking out sinful eyes—if we interpreted those words literally we’d all be blind and limbless. As we note from our first lesson, there were Levites in the crowd who helped Ezra by teaching and interpretation of the Scriptures so that the people could understand God’s Word. That is also why in the Christian Church sermons and preaching is so important as well as Bible studies. May we continue to learn and grow in our faith, and truly understand the Scriptures and be drawn ever closer to Jesus. Amen.

 

1 Citation from Emphasis online.

2 Citation from Ron Lavin at <www.esermons.com>.

Sermon 2 Epiphany Yr C

2 Epiphany Yr C, 14/01/2007

1 Cor 12:1-11

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Now concerning spiritual gifts”

 

The small church had been racked by controversy for years. Attendance declined dramatically as the seething cauldron of spiritual gifts flooded the church like the raging waters of the Mississippi River. The charismatics, scolding the conservatives for not speaking in tongues, insisted that they were more spiritual than their counterparts. The conservatives blamed the charismatics for dividing the church over an “insignificant issue.”

Finally, in frustration, the senior pastor called both groups together to resolve the problem. He invited the C and C’s to his small farm just outside of town. “Folks, I have a problem here. I’ve got a farm that needs tending. I’ve got to plant crops, feed livestock, repair that old broken down barn you see in the pasture and I have no one to help me finish the task. Now, which of you will help me get the job done?”

“I will!” they all chorused, harmoniously.

The two groups immediately set about their various tasks, laying aside the differences between them. The pastor’s farm was completely revamped and overhauled in three days as they worked congenially without halt or hitch.

Calling together the group to thank them for a job well done, the pastor made the following observation: “You folks have been arguing about gifts of the spirit for quite some time now, but I brought you here to illustrate an important point. I asked that you help rebuild my farm and each of you, responding to the call, utilized your gifts to get the job done. You didn’t argue about who would do what; you just used what God gave you to help a poor fellow in need. God expects this from us in building the church. God is only concerned that we use our gifts for the common good and not dispute the value of our gifts in service to those in need. If we all concentrate on using our gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of the people, we can be a better church and reach more people for Christ. While we have many gifts, the greatest is working together in harmony for Christ.1

In our second lesson today, the apostle Paul addresses the question of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. The Corinthian congregation was a diverse group of people, which included Jews and Gentiles from various parts of the world who had settled in Corinth. There were rich and poor folks. There were very sophisticated and highly educated folks, there were also likely illiterate folks. There were people of various ages, and walks of life. It seems that some in Corinth took the viewpoint that because of their particular gift or gifts, they were superior to other folks with different gifts in the congregation. They seem to have forgotten it was not their own personal status or importance that mattered—rather, each person was to employ their gift or gifts of the Spirit for the common good to worship and praise and give glory to the Lord, not themselves.

In his book The Human Mind Karl Menninger wrote: “The manner in which a person utilizes religion, whether it be to enrich and ennoble her or his life or to excuse his or her selfishness and cruelty, or to rationalize her or his delusions and hallucinations…is a commentary on the state of his or her mental health.” There is a real difference between a religion that hurts and one that heals, between healthy and unhealthy religion.2

The apostle Paul also distinguishes between healthy faith and unhealthy faith. The determining, pivotal sign of true, healthy faith according to Paul here is whether or not a follower of Jesus confesses the most likely earliest Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord.” For Paul one who confesses this creed is doing so by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is not possible for such a person who makes this confession to say, “Let Jesus be cursed!” Such words are not from the Holy Spirit, Paul insists. What he is saying is that there are other, different spirits than the Holy Spirit; these other spirits can be destructive and lead people away from God. That three word confession, “Jesus is Lord,” appears to be so simple, yet it had some very profound implications for the Christians of Paul’s day.

First of all, we note that it is Jesus who is Lord, not someone else. No other human being is equal with Jesus. No one could ever take his place as the fully human and fully divine Lord. That Jesus is Lord, underscores the truth that he was not some fictitious character from a fairy tale; not some cartoon-like hero; not some mythological figure concocted by someone with a brilliant creative imagination. No! Jesus was a real, live human being who was born and lived at a certain time in a certain place in history, like all of us. In so doing, he revealed God’s love to the world.

Secondly, the present tense is employed in the confession, Jesus is Lord. Jesus was not merely some ordinary person who lived at one time in history past, no more to live again. No! Rather, Jesus for those earliest Christians was still very much alive in their present, day-to-day living. He was, he is their living Lord. Faith in Jesus as the resurrected Lord was important for the early Christian Church. This meant that there is no place and no time in which Jesus is absent—as the risen Saviour and Lord, he has transcended the limitations of time and is now always eternally present in every time and place, in accordance with his promise in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Third, the confession also underscores Jesus is Lord. That he is Lord is reference to his divinity, over against those who would deny it. At that time in the Roman Empire, Caesar was given the title of Lord and worshipped as a god. For those early Christians, confessing Jesus as their Lord was a clear sign to the state that there was a power and an authority higher than the Roman Emperor who must be obeyed and worshipped. Indeed some Christians chose to die a martyr’s death confessing, “Jesus is Lord” rather than renounce their faith to worship and obey other lords or gods. As the divine Lord, his rule is different than any other in this world. He is not a tyrant. He does not rule by military might. He does not rule by enforcing oppressive laws. He does not rule by fear and intimidation, and the abuse of power. No! He rules not by the love of power, but rather by the power of love, which is offered unconditionally to everyone. Love made known in service—bringing healing, peace and forgiveness to everyone. Love that one day, shall usher in the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem—the complete realm of God, banishing forever all sin, death and evil.

From this Lordship of Jesus Christ, which connects us with the Source of all life, flows the work of the Holy Spirit, giving gifts to the Church for the common good. It is interesting and instructive that when Paul lists nine gifts of the Holy Spirit here, he mentions tongues and interpreting tongues the last. Even though he lists the speaking in tongues and interpreting them as gifts, nonetheless they are the least important of the gifts—as he states later on in chapter 14:19: “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” When it comes to this ecstatic gift, we would do well to heed the following words of wisdom from A.K Ware: Discernment is even more necessary in the case of tongues. Often it is not the Spirit of God that is speaking through the tongues, but the all-too-human spirit of auto-suggestion and mass hysteria. There are even occasions where “speaking with tongues” is a form of demonic possession. “Beloved, trust not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God”(I Jn 4:1).3 So it is better to speak a few words of wisdom and knowledge without fanfare that people can understand than to speak ten thousand words in a tongue of ecstasy.

As I pondered our second lesson, it occurred to me that a lot of theology and practice based on what Paul says about the gifts of the Holy Spirit might be misleading and incorrect. Listen again carefully to Paul’s words in verse eleven: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” Note here that it is the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours who activates all of these gifts. That means we cannot will these gifts into being or activate them ourselves—it is God’s Spirit doing this work, that is indeed why they are called gifts, not works. Note here too that it is the Spirit who allots each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. Once again it is the Spirit’s work and activity and choosing, not ours. It seems to me that this has rather profound implications for all of us and all of the gifts. We cannot summon enough of this or that to get a gift or use a gift. Nor ought we be envious of others concerning the quality and quantity of the Spirit’s gifts. We should not beat ourselves up or lay unnecessary guilt trips on others or ourselves because they or we do not have this or that gift. Nor should we say to them or ourselves: “If only you or I had more faith or more wisdom,” and so on. Rather, the Holy Spirit knows best what we need and gives a particular gift or set of gifts and quantity of gifts accordingly. Therefore, let us not be jealous or resentful towards others and the gifts the Spirit has given them.

This reminds me of a story told about Francis of Assisi and another monk, Brother Juniper. Brother Juniper thought that he could never do anything right. He grew disheartened since he regarded himself a useless community member. However, Francis encouraged him, saying, “Cheer up, Brother Juniper! Don’t you know that God has given you the greatest gift of all—a loving heart?”4

The apostle Paul would likely be inclined to agree with Francis, for he too goes on to say in chapter thirteen that the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is love. It is the foundation of every other gift and shall outlast every other gift, since it is eternal, and reflects the very nature of God. Without love, Paul says the other gifts are of little or no benefit. May we too be encouraged by and thankful for the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given each of us—especially the gift of love. Amen.

1 Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 5, January-February 1995, (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), pp. 28-29.                                                                                                                                                                                             2 Cited from: Clergy Talk, March 1985, p. 3.                                                                                                              3 A.K. Ware, The Orthodox Way (London & Oxford: Mowbrays, 1979), p. 135.                                 4 Unfortunately I have lost the source of this story.

Sermon Baptism of Our Lord Yr C

Baptism of Our Lord Yr C, 7/01/2007

Acts 8:14-17 & Lk 3:22

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The Holy Spirit’s Blessing”

 

One of the important questions that many people struggle with is the following: Am I blessed? This seems a rather simple question, yet it has very profound implications for every human being. I know, because after many years of ordained ministry I’ve experienced blessing upon blessing. I also know, because during these many years of ministry, I’ve also met some people who have suffered throughout their lives without being blessed—or at least that is what these people believe. The Bible is full of blessing stories—including today’s second lesson from Acts and today’s gospel, when Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus and blesses him. The following story, as told by Pastor John Sumwalt is a good example of how a person can suffer if one does not believe they are blessed or cannot recall whether they have received a blessing.

Steve couldn’t believe what he had just done. He had gotten up in the middle of the sermon and walked out of the sanctuary—and he didn’t know why. He felt angry inside, so angry that he couldn’t sit still for one minute longer, but he didn’t know what his anger was about. Was it something the pastor said? He wasn’t sure. Steve tried to remember what the pastor had been talking about but he couldn’t remember anything about the sermon. He felt embarrassment for himself and for his family. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been sitting in the back, but they had been up front in the third pew, their usual spot since the kids had been old enough to sit with them through worship. How would he explain it to them? Should he say that he had felt sick? Steve decided to walk home to spare everyone the awkwardness of explanations after the service. He would tell them exactly what had happened and apologize for his abrupt exit when everyone got home.

Later that afternoon after a long talk with his wife in which neither of them had been able to come to any understanding about the source of his anger, Steve decided that he needed to talk to someone outside the family. He phoned the pastor, apologized for disturbing him on a Sunday afternoon, and asked if he could see him some time in the next few days. The pastor suggested that they meet on Tuesday evening. “That will be fine,” Steve told him. He felt some relief just knowing he had taken some action that might help to sort things out.

“Are you still feeling angry?” the pastor asked Steve after he told him why he had left the service early on Sunday.

“Yes,” Steve said, “And I still don’t know why. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“Tell me everything you remember about Sunday morning, starting with whom you talked to when you arrived at church and everything you can remember about the worship service,” the pastor suggested.

Steve told about whom he had talked to and, as best he could, recalled what had been said. He remembered nothing that seemed significant, certainly nothing that was in any way upsetting. Then he described what he could remember about the worship service. The pastor was surprised at how much he remembered. He ticked off every act of worship, precisely in order, naming each hymn and summarizing the content of the prayers and the first two Scripture readings as if he had the bulletin before him. But when he came to the reading of the gospel he couldn’t remember which lesson had been read or what it was about.

“It is interesting that you remember the Old Testament and epistle readings but you don’t remember the gospel.” The pastor reached up and took a Bible down from the shelf. “Perhaps it might help to hear the gospel reading again.” He began to read.

Steve listened, and as he heard the familiar words about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, he became aware that he did remember hearing them on Sunday morning, but it wasn’t until the pastor came to the final words of the text that he knew what his anger was about.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

“That’s what I always wanted to hear from my father,” Steve said, “and now it’s too late.” Tears came to his eyes as he allowed himself to feel for the first time the deep hurt that he had been carrying for so long. When he was able to go on, he said, “I thought about this when Dad died last year, but I decided that since there was nothing I could do about it, I just wouldn’t think about it anymore.”

“Perhaps there is something you can do about it,” the pastor said. “Let’s pretend that your dad is sitting right here in this chair.” He pulled an empty chair over and placed it in front of Steve. “Tell him how you feel. Don’t leave anything out.”

Steve began hesitantly, but after a few moments he spoke passionately, pouring out everything he had been holding back in the depths of his heart. When he was finished the pastor looked at him and said, “What do you think your father would say to all of that?”

“I can’t be absolutely sure,” Steve said, “but I think he would tell me that everything is going to be all right. That’s what he used to tell me when I was a little boy. And then he would pick me up, give me one of his big bear hugs and say, ‘That’s my boy.’”

When Steve left the pastor’s office he felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from his whole being. For the first time since his father died he felt at peace.[1]

In today’s gospel, we are reminded that God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism and blessed him. This too is a reminder that all of God’s baptized people—including you and me—have been blessed by the Holy Spirit. We too, are God’s beloved daughters and sons with whom God is well pleased, thanks to the saving gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

In our second lesson from Acts, we are also reminded that God the Holy Spirit freely works in and through all manner of people. In this case, the two Jewish apostles, Peter and John are called to go to the Samaritans and lay their hands of blessing upon them that they may receive the Holy Spirit. This is a reminder that the Holy Spirit of God works in and through us to break down the barriers, the walls, the stumbling blocks between differing groups of people. In biblical times, the Samaritans were looked down upon as second-class citizens, and even enemies of the Jews from Jerusalem and Judea. Here God the Holy Spirit works to bless the Samaritans through two Jewish disciples, a story of reconciliation, diversity and unity within the early Christian Church.

As we, in baptism have been blessed; may we go forth and pass on the Holy Spirit’s blessing upon others who are in need of it, just like the people of Samaria. Amen.

[1]John E. Sumwalt, Lectionary Stories Cycle C (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., Inc., 1991), pp. 34-36.