Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13,26-27; Isaiah 43:1-2; Luke 3:21-22


When Jesus is baptized, we’re told that the Holy Spirit descends on him.  What this looks like is a dove coming down towards him.  What this sounds like is a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

In the worship calendar, this Sunday after Epiphany is always Baptism of Jesus Sunday.  Since we have hardly any stories of Jesus’ early life, we do some time travel and jump from baby Jesus in the manger visited by the magi – last week – to this week – Jesus’ first public appearance as a grown man, as one of the masses being baptized by the charismatic John in the Jordan River.  It’s a Sunday we’re invited to remember not only Jesus’ baptism, but also our own baptismal identity.  What does it look like, and what does it sound like for Holy Spirit to be on and within us?

In our secular calendar, we’re ten days into a new year and I’m still doing double takes every time I write and date a check, ending in 2016.  How did that happen?  The present...

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Speaker: Chris Pedersen

Like many of you may have experienced in the waning hours of your 2015, questions start to abound about any New Year’s resolutions you are going to try and implement in your life for the upcoming year. As I was having this conversation with friends, I realized that many of their resolutions just didn’t work for me. The first idea that was presented to me was getting a gym membership to stay in shape…I mean, I can really only use like 4 machines properly, the four leg machines. But I guess every day could be leg day! The next idea was to read more books. For most people, this might be a wonderful idea. Just not for this seminary student. This past semester for my 5 classes I ordered 22 books. And I work in a library. I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time either with books or talking about books.

So my original New Year’s resolution was to drink less coffee… After two days of 2016, I can say with confidence that this resolution is going poorly and will continue to go poorly. As soon as I said those words out...

Texts: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-56

If you travel to the Holy Land, you soon discover there is a church commemorating just about every significant event that happened in the Gospels.  It’s kind of like that old i-Phone commercial.  The place in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel visited Mary with an invitation to bear the Son of God?  There’s a church for that.  The hill in Galilee where Jesus spoke the beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount?  There’s a church for that.  The home where Peter lived in Capernaum, the place where Jesus named Peter as the rock on which he would build his church?  There a church for that, and that.  The location in Jerusalem of Jesus’ crucifixion?  There’s definitely a church for that.  The place on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven?  There’s four churches for that: Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, German Lutheran, and the oldest structure, the Dome of the Ascension, which has a complicated history and now doubles as a mosque since Muslims also believe in Jesus’ ascension.

Many of these churches have been built and destroyed and rebuilt and remodeled many times over throughout the tumultuous history of the area.  But...

Texts: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-18

More than any other gospel passage, Luke chapter 3 situates itself firmly within the political and religious landscape of its time.  “In the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas.”  In the ancient world, referencing such leaders was a way of telling time, but it also serves another purpose.  The story I’m about to tell you is no fairy tale, Luke could be saying.  It happened at a specific time, in a particular location, under these circumstances.  There were real people involved, people with names and stories of their own.  People whose daily lives were enmeshed in the kind of world these rulers and religious leaders oversaw.  What I want to tell you, Luke goes on, is that under these conditions, “the word of the Lord came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”  The Word, that life-creating, mind-shaping, path-making Divine force, came, through John, out in the wilderness.  In that wilderness, all around...

Text: Luke 21:20-33 

We step off the bus after a short ride from the Bethlehem Star Hotel where we’d stayed our first three nights of the trip.  Off to our right is the entrance to the Aida refugee camp, one of three Palestinian refugee camps in Bethlehem.  In front of us is the Lajee Center, a community center working with Palestinian youth and families who’ve been living in Aida their whole lives.  We are met by Salah Ajarma, a guy who looks to be about my age.  He is the Director of the Lajee Center and will be our guide for the morning.  His wife is pregnant and they’re expecting their fourth child any day, so Salah begins by noting that he is keeping his cell phone turned on.

Before leading us on a walking tour through Aida and introducing us to the Center, Salah leads us off to the left.  This used to be a main business street in Bethlehem, he notes.  But now it looks awful.  Buildings are in poor repair, and nobody’s shopping or selling.  The street and sidewalk are littered with debris.  We walk slowly up the slope of the road, but we can’t...