Ohana means Family

Brothers and sisters, I greet you with the abundant grace from God through the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are blessed among congregations. For you know instinctively and authentically the gift of family. It has been shared with me that the majority of folks are related in some way, brothers, cousins, aunts, grand-parents, nieces, or in-laws. This congregation has stood the rigors of time on this land near the foot of the Catoctin mountains, basking in or clinging desperately to the Word of God in abundant times and in seasons of want. You have worked together, played together, disagreed together, nurtured together and mourned together. failed, fought, celebrated, negotiated. You among all peoples are able to understand the passionate story of the Tribes of Israel for just like those of old these children here today have a genealogy of their own that is intertwined with so many who have lived and died on these fallow acres . The intersection of these two roads has borne your sons and daughters away to distant cities, states and countries. But these roads have also seen strangers - travelers - some no doubt who have moved into the pages of history books and others who stopped and stayed and became part of the vibrant force of this place.

On this mornng, I have stopped here, invited by God to have my life intersect with yours. In my few moments so far I have barely begun to touch the surface of the ministry of the people of God that has gone on here over the years. Nor have you plunged the depths of my life, my heart, my abiding reliance on Christ. Yet this is a moment of opportunity for this family and this sojourner to share our histories of meeting Jesus Christ, to learn and grow from one another and intertwine and strengthen our ministries. The poetry of Robert Frost speaks of this very moment.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not ravel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth."

Each of us is faced with this same decision.. One to follow a path we know, One we have been taught that is safe and correct, that which is familiar - comfortable, or the other to walk among the gathering, swirling, leaves of our diverse histories and to find there the deep and abiding love of God in the encounter……risking something new, fearing disappointment and being unhappily yoked…..OR discovering a new understanding of the vast personality, boundless love, and abundant grace of our God. But for now let us pause as Frost did at that fork in the woods.

A few moments ago I spoke of the importance of your family genealogy. I don't know if you ever read them, but there are many ancestral lists in scripture. In fact, the very next verses following our Gospel reading today is the lineage of Jesus' earthly father, Joseph. Now, it has often times been said that these genealogies are so boring that many people skip over those parts. Who cares who fathered who! Most would say they are glad those family histories are not in the lectionary. But that is because of our ignorance of who these people are. Through the centuries we simply have neglected to tell - and therefore have forgotten their stories. Some of us don't even know our own past and get to be adopted into someone else's story or forge a new one of our own. We know very little of Joseph, a carpenter it is said, a man who sought sanctuary for his family in Egypt to evade the wrath of Herod. And as the story of Jesus unfolds, he slips quietly into the shadows.

And, yet, he is the product of an awesome lineage. What rugged individualists, what brave warriors, what faithful devout men, tillers of the soil, earthy lusty people….stuff of real humanity and people through whom God worked mighty miracles in the history of Israel. We can not possibly know the story as Jesus would have known it. His mother and father would have helped him understand the strengths, weaknesses and failures of his people and the fulfillment of God's promises in the lives of these his ancestors. He would have owned, respected and reflected on their influence in the ultimate purpose of his people and he would himself have been shaped by their stories. Then when he took his place in that living history, he was granted a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. And did you notice it was not when he came up out of the water but when he was in prayer in intentional communication with the father. He received confirmation of what he had heard and known at his mother's knee. God's affirmation, "You are my son. You are my beloved." What did that mean to hear it directly from the Holy Spirit and not just from mother Mary, aunt Elizabeth, and uncle Zechariah? What would it mean to you to receive such audible, visible confirmation of God?

It is important that we look at the baptism of Jesus within the framework of the different gospel accounts. Each one helps us understand its fullest meaning - all of its implications. Each evangelist incorporates the baptism for a specific purpose. Matthew focuses on repentance - a life that is changed. John the Baptist admonishes those who seek baptism for the wrong reason. He encourages outwardly visible reflections of the meaning of one's heritage and the fruit of one's changed heart. Matthew saw the baptism that John performed as a visible step on the way to an inward righteousness - a righteousness that Jesus by his nature already possessed.

Mark gives us no other events or family in Jesus' life up until this point. His account begins with Jesus baptized, blessed by God, tempted by Satan and initiated into his ministry at which point he calls his first disciples. We see very quickly the charisma gifted by the Holy Spirit. Immediately Simon and Andrew follow. Immediately James and John do as well. With a powerful word, unclean spirits are cast out and Jesus' fame spreads.

The gospel of John sees the events of the baptism as proof of Jesus' divinity. John claims he didn't even know him until he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove declaring Jesus as son of God.

But Luke draws us all into the story. First, he tells us Jesus was baptized in community. All who had heard John's word, responded. Then Luke spans the history of humankind with God at the beginning with Adam….. and God at the fulfillment with Jesus. If we could know the stories of all the ancestors as we do of Adam, Seth, Methuselah, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, we would be able to see God's involvement in their lives. We would draw strength from the fact that God is tenacious, God does not let us go no matter what we have done.

We too are baptized into this heritage. We are called upon o remember these stories when the pastor thanks God for blessing the earth with water and saving Noah and his family during the flood….for setting Israel free from captivity by passing through the sea. We gather around the baptized promising to teach him or her through word and deed the way of Jesus, the way of justice and peace.

As a community of faith we promise to stand by this one through the difficult times that will surely come…we are to be incarnational in our love…incarnating daily God's unbreakable promises. At our baptism we belong to God. We are open to the influence of the spirit.

Baptism is a family affair in the Lutheran church. It is a promise to be here when life gets messy, to pick up and mend the brokenness of unwise decisions, egotism, arrogance, revenge, misused anger, depression, poverty, mourning. We cannot avoid the fallout from the sinful nature of this world and ourselves.

And so for 250 years this congregation has upheld one another through the trials. And through it all, How many of you have heard through the care of others, God speak… "You are my children, and I love you."

You see that is part of what grace is all abaout…that despite the brokenness God never stops loving you. God came among us as Christ to let us hear those words, "I love you."

Just as something as destructive and uncaring as Stitch can be redeemed by the steadfast love and relentless dedication of Lilo. Despite the chain of misfortune…at the brink of total loss….Stitch transforms their world as Lilo's love transformed Stitch.

If you have seen this movie, then you know that it had nothing to do with Lilo's perfect life…for she was far from perfection herself. Instead it had everything to do with the intimacy that developed, the moments shared, the connectedness, the silent understanding that grew in the midst of destroying San Francisco, playing Elvis for the sunbathers, and running from his alien bounty hunters.

It was all about encouragement and empowering o believe that God can work through us and in spite of us.

Is that not the hope of every congregation. That God's voice will be heard in the sermon, the Sunday School lessons, the service projects of the youth, the warmth of the quilts sewn by loving hands, and the communal love of the potluck suppers.

It does and it can if we individual members can claim the many moments that Christ has entered our lives. Then it is the sharing of those moments. It is in the confidence and boldness that results when you know you are loved. It is the outreach that happens when you no longer bother worrying about something that was already done for you over 2,000 years ago. It is in the silent witness in your eyes as you focus on the seeker and say, "come be a part of our family."

Like the apostle Paul. Like the woman at the well, Jesus confronted me with the truth of my life. And, then he claimed me with his call. He forged new meaning and purpose out of the misfortunes of my life and helped me understand grace and forgiveness. And, he did it through encounters with people just like you who were brave enough to share their faith and their lives with me.

And, like the woman at the well, I cannot retreat from proclaiming the redemption that occurred for me and that I know has happened for you. In fact, I'm going to guess that you have so many faith stories to share that we could write a book called, the Good News from Creagerstown.

So today, we are gathered in this place, invited by God to look into the future together.

  • Shall we proclaim the gospel together?
  • Shall we pray through the weighty burdens of our lives.
  • Shall we minister to the sick, the dying, the oppressed, and the unwanted
  • Shall we seek to open the eyes and ears and hearts of those with questions, those with mistrust, misunderstanding and doubt…together.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan