Gratuitous Sex & Violence?

Okay today I’ve got a stool to sit on, and a bottle of aspirin, I’m sure we’ll need those aspirin later. How many of you have heard me marvel over how often the liturgical calendar, which has been set up for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, exactly fits into something that’s going on within a congregation or within the church at a given time? Caeden read our Gospel reading for today. Typically there’s at least one Gospel reading, at least one Old Testament reading, usually another New Testament reading, and a Psalm. If we were to stick with the Gospel as our lesson today, we’d be talking about the baptism of Christ and the recruiting of Disciples of Christ at the beginning of his ministry. We’ve done that before—a lot. So rather than go over that again I poked around the liturgical calendar and found a verse that comes from this week but actually next year. It’s 1st Corinthians 6:12-20 let’s give it a look.

All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

If you’ve hung around the church for any time at all you’ve noticed that when anyone brings up one of these verses that discusses sex and relationships considered a sin, suddenly everybody has some verse that comes to mind talking about sex and sins. You can find them going back as far as the Ten Commandments, you can find them in Leviticus, you can find them when the law was restated in Deuteronomy, you can even find Paul talking about sex and relationships in the New Testament. This section we just read in 1st Corinthians was one of Paul’s. We didn’t talk much about sexual sin in Scripture when we had the recent ONA discussions, but as visitors start to attend and ask questions about this ONA thing, these types of sexual sin discussions will undoubtedly come up.

Maybe we should look at how this all worked out in practice for someone whom God loved; God’s favorite, King David. When we think of David we get a mental image of the young man who brought his sling and slew Goliath. A young king curled up underneath the shadow of the Tabernacle who wrote probably half of the Psalms. As a boy he played his harp for King Saul to help him get some rest. Oh sure, we all remember some story about Bathsheba, but with all the great things God says about how much he loved David, he must have been a really great example right?

Well, let’s take a look at that: The young life of David was indeed quite the story, but David’s life turns into quite the confusing tale before too long. David’s first wife was named Michael, Now we think of Michael as a man’s name, but no; in the ancient Hebrew Michael is a girl’s name. King Saul planned for David to marry his eldest daughter, and arrangements were made for that to happen. But when it was discussed that the younger daughter, Michael, had a fondness for David, King Saul changed his arrangements and married-off Michael to David. Now, just because there was affection between the two, we shouldn’t assume that there was no transaction taking place. In fact, David paid for Michael with the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines, of the 200 that David killed for King Saul. I can see the conversation now both of them looking at this pile of foreskins scratching their heads David saying “Do you want to count them?” King Saul saying, “No I’ll take your word for it.”

Michael loved David, and things were going well—considering Michael’s father, King Saul was trying to kill David at the time. Things headed downhill when David was up on his roof watching his next door neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba, take a bath, and decided he wanted her for himself. After seducing Bathsheba, and getting pregnant, David tried to get his neighbor Uriah to come home from war and sleep with his wife, so it might appear that Uriah had gotten his own wife pregnant. But Uriah chose to follow the ancient tradition of not having sex during time of War, so David finally resorted to having his generals send Uriah to the front lines, knowing that Uriah would be killed and, therefore, David would be able to take Bathsheba as his own. Got that, Murder to cover up adultery? Now he did go on to marry Bathsheba and have four more children with her, after this. In total we know of David having eight wives although the scripture says there were many; so scholars believe that only eight of those many wives were listed in Scripture.

The last straw for David’s first wife Michal was when David was dancing naked in the streets to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant. Michael couldn’t handle this kind of inappropriate celebration, so she married someone else.

No concubines are mentioned in scripture for David but it would be highly unlikely for someone at that time of his stature not to have any concubines. There was one other particularly awkward arrangement worth mentioning. It was believed in those days that the fertility of the land was a reflection of the fertility of the king. So, as David was around 70 years old, and in declining health, his advisors wanted to at least give the impression that the King was virile and active. So they found a 12 year old girl to play ‘nurse’ with the King, sleep with him, ‘keep him warm’ and at least give the impression that he was able to keep active sex life. Well, scripture tells us that nothing really happened. But life still ended badly for this young girl, She was killed because she was considered someone who could be a king-maker, upon any future marriage, so she was put to death rather than allowed to marry someone else.

As we all know King David was regarded as a man after God’s Own Heart, God’s favorite, and God’s anointed one. How can this be? How can God have thought so highly of David, when by all accounts, David seems to be the king of immoral behavior?

Do you want to know why monks are famous for making beer and wine? Sacramental wine is always the official answer, but the real reason monks brew is because of questions like this!

Now it gets worse before it gets better, in fact I’m not even sure it gets better but it does get worse: David’s childhood friend Jonathan is described in scripture as someone whom “David loved more than any woman.” Now, some scholars believe that indicates the David had intimate relations with Jonathan, in addition to being interested in women. That is not a majority opinion, but it is certainly an interpretation that has been around for a great deal of time. Especially given that in ancient times, men having sexual relationships with men did not imply the emotional relationship we think of now.

David wanted to be the one to rebuild the Temple, but God said no, that is the job of Solomon, David’s son from Bathsheba. While Solomon was busy being King, and rebuilding the temple, he seemed to find time to have 700 wives of of Royal birth, plus another 300 concubines.

All of this would have greatly upset Paul; but this all happened hundreds of years before Paul was around. And none of this speaks to the prostitution, on which Paul concentrated. Let’s go back even further. To the time after Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt; you remember when they Joshua led the marching around the walls of Jericho, as they were blowing their trumpets. The spies found a prostitute who was willing to help the Israelites take over the city. Rahab let a red rope out a window to aid the spies. Rahab married Salmon, of the tribe of Judah, she was the mother of Boaz. Which means that Rahab was a direct ancestor to David, and therefore Rehab the prostitute was a direct ancestor to Jesus. I’m sure the Apostle Paul was highly incensed about this, but I’m betting it probably didn’t bother Jesus.

I say that because one of the stories we read near the end of Christ’s earthly life is when a prostitute enters the house of Simon the leper, and pours a large bottle of perfume called nard [spikenard] on Jesus’ feet and proceeds to wash Jesus’ feet with her own hair and this perfume, which would have cost a Year’s wages, and for most people in those days. And while the disciples winced, Judas complained about the value lost in the perfume; but Christ commended her for doing what she could to prepare Him for burial. You’ve probably heard this story, and heard it was Mary Magdalene being the one who poured the perfume on Jesus. Scholars do not believe this to be accurate, nor do they believe it was Mary the sister of Martha, and brother of Lazarus was raised from the dead. Rather this is someone who listened to Christ’s teachings, but whose identity we don’t know.

Jesus was both renowned and ridiculed for hanging out with the lowest people in society those days; prostitutes, and tax collectors. Yet somehow both the ancient Church and the modern Church have a particular disdain for anything that can be construed as a sexual sin.

How do we attempt to reconcile these seemingly disparate interpretations? How do we deal with an ancient culture that has its own sexual mores and taboos; against a savior who spent time with these people?

How do we reconcile a modern society with its own hang-ups, its own proclivities, against a faith of inclusion. Especially considering we’re surrounded by other congregations in other denominations, who maintain a rigid intolerance for those whose appetites differ from theirs.

I don’t have the perfect answer. Like I said it’s questions like these that drive theologians to drink! The conservative Church simply says the law is the law; so everything else must be sin. Some on the theological left argue like Paul in our reading; that everything is allowed but not everything is good for me.

My question to those who like to argue such things, is “What was the purpose of the law?” Now, you might get different answers that question, but there is an official Seminary-approved answer to that question. The official answer to “what was the purpose of the law?” is: To show us that we could not live up to God’s expectations, and therefore must be saved through Christ. No one could keep every ceremonial law, every health law, and every cultural law. It was simply impossible. God needed a way to teach his people that it was impossible for them to be pure enough, correct enough, holy enough, to be able to come to God by ourselves. It is quite simply impossible to obey the entirety of the law. Christ came, and died in our place, to atone for our inadequacies, our sin, our inability to save ourselves. We were never expected to obey the law, we were expected fail it! It was Christ himself who summarized the law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. All we’re expected to do is live up to just that part, as best we can; Christ has already taken care of everything else.

First Step Preschool Celebrates Both Past and Future in Black Forest

Black Forest Community Church and First Step Preschool share a long history and a  strong connection. When the church was built in 1942, members established an open-door policy, inviting local groups to use their facilities. Over the years, their community focus broadened to hosting concerts, participating in festivals and parades, and organizing the annual Halloween celebration at La Foret Conference and Retreat Center. Kay Stricklan learned of that reputation shortly after moving to Black Forest in 1982. As she began researching a good location for the preschool she hoped to open, it seemed only natural to approach Black Forest Community Church about renting space. At that time, their landmark log building included a basement extension along the south side, which would be perfect as a classroom. Stricklan got busy applying for state licenses, formulating all the required policies and procedures, and working out a rental agreement with the church. Choosing the name “First Step” was easy because, as a Speech-Language Pathologist and mother of two, she knew that the type of learning environment young children encounter in their initial school experience has a lasting impact on their future educational path. As a result, the school’s curriculum focus was on playful exploration of the natural world, development of pre-academic language concepts, and a variety of music and movement activities. Stricklan had the preschool’s logo designed to reflect its special location in the heart of Black Forest.
First Step Preschool opened its doors in January 1984, with a class of just six students. As its reputation for excellence spread, enrollment grew to more than 60.  In 1991, Stricklan made the decision to return to her former career and to donate the preschool to Black Forest Community Church. It immediately gained congregational support as an important part of the Missions program. During the ensuing years, church members have volunteered their help with various preschool projects, including playground improvements, general maintenance, and fundraisers. When Morast Hall (the third building in the Black Forest Community Church complex) was constructed in 1996, the entire lower floor became preschool space. This August, First Step Preschool will begin its 32rd school year, continuing its strong tradition of offering developmentally appropriate learning opportunities for 3-to-5 year olds. Those lucky children and their families are sure to make many lasting memories and friendships as they share in this little piece of Black Forest history.

We are proud to introduce our new director Kristi Priddy:

kpMy name is Kristi Priddy and I am the new Director of First Step Preschool. I hold a degree in Child Development from the University of Texas and have worked with young children in the roles of preschool director and teacher for the last twenty years. I feel privileged to join First Step Preschool and its legacy of providing a high quality preschool program. An engaging preschool environment is one of the first steps to developing a love of learning. We currently have a few spaces available for the 2016/2017 school year. We would love for you to join us in providing a creative, hands on learning experience for your preschooler.


Limited spaces open for Fall of 2016. Call today to reserve your spot, (719) 495-0146.

The resurrection changed everything!

Can you imagine how Jesus’ disciples were feeling that weekend? We read, farther head in Luke, that some of them decided to leave Jerusalem. They had believed that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman occupation—to throw the bums out. But now Jesus was dead, they had given up, and so, there wasn’t much sense in sticking around. The new kingdom reality they had dreamed of had died with Jesus. So they just walked away. They didn’t yet understand all that Jesus’ death meant, and they certainly weren’t expecting him to return from the dead.

Some of the women, who were followers of Jesus, had gone out to the tomb and found it empty that same morning. They had seen angels, who told them that Jesus was alive! The women had told the other disciples, who also found the tomb empty. But they still couldn’t believe that Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. When they realized the truth, that Jesus really was alive, it changed everything. THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Everything changed for them because this changed the whole world as they knew it. No longer were they tied to the Old Covenant system of animal sacrifices, and ritual clensings. No longer did a high-priest have to intercede on their behalf. Everything, absolutely everything they knew; about who they were, about their relationship to God, about every power and authority they’d ever dealt with, just about everything that people never expect to change, changed for them. THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

But how is Jesus’ resurrection good news for us? Does Jesus’ resurrection change everything for us? We can look for some explanation in Scripture. Paul wrote to the Romans about the old life:

We know that the law is holy; but I am not. I have been sold to be a slave of sin. I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do. I do what I don’t want to do. So I agree that the law is good. As it is, I am no longer the one who does these things. It is sin living in me that does them. I know there is nothing good in my desires controlled by sin. I want to do what is good, but I can’t. I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me that does it.

Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Deep inside me I find joy in God’s law. But I see another law working in me. It fights against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin. That law controls me. What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? I give thanks to God who saves me. He saves me through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law. But sin controls my desires. So I am a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:14-25 (NIRV)

God has given us new life through Christ, Paul explained this transition when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.

You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead. You used to live as sinners when you followed the ways of this world. You served the one who rules over the spiritual forces of evil. He is the spirit who is now at work in those who don’t obey God. At one time we all lived among them. Our desires were controlled by sin. We tried to satisfy what they wanted us to do. We followed our desires and thoughts. God was angry with us like he was with everyone else. That’s because of the kind of people we all were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you. God raised us up with Christ. He has seated us with him in his heavenly kingdom. That’s because we belong to Christ Jesus. He has done it to show the riches of his grace for all time to come. His grace can’t be compared with anything else. He has shown it by being kind to us. He was kind to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. God’s grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift. It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it. We are God’s creation. He created us to belong to Christ Jesus. Now we can do good works. Long ago God prepared these works for us to do.

Ephesians 2 (NIRV)

Everything changed for us because we get to live a different kind of life. Not a perfect life, not yet, not here, but a vastly different life, one with the Holy Spirit as our guide. That’s something that our Old Testament counterparts didn’t have. There’s a lot we can learn and discuss in Scripture; but if we never take our heads out the Bible, to interact with those around us, we miss the application part of the message. For the Resurrection didn’t just change the pecking-order in Heaven, nor did it just let us off the hook—as so many seem to think. The Resurrection was bigger than that, THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Our old nature has died with Christ, we were in the resurrection with him, our old nature has no place. Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over our old ways, and power to live in a new way. Those old behaviors are replaced with characteristics of God! Compassion! Faithfulness! Forgiveness! Empathy! We can cry with those who hurt, and rejoice with those who are happy! THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING by giving us the freedom, and the heart, and the authority to do what’s right! Not by saddling us with responsibility—that’s the old way. But rather, by allowing us to be the person we would want to be!

You wouldn’t know that, if you visited most congregations this morning. Oh sure, you’d hear a message of resurrection. But you’ll still hear most of the Church talking about Hell, eternal torment, and a hope of maybe going to Heaven—under the right circumstances; but they’re missing the message—the good news. The message to those Jewish believers at the end of the Old Covenant was that the Kingdom of God was at hand, we talked about that a few weeks back; but the Resurrection message, is really that you now have the power, the freedom, and the ability to do right. To love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind; and you neighbor as yourself. Now go do it!

The Resurrection Homily of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

There was an Archbishop of Constantinople by the name of John Chrysostom, around 400AD. He was an important Early Church Father for a lot of reasons, but what we remember him for, mostly, was his preaching skill. You see, his last name, Chrysostom, was not a surname but rather, a byname; like John the Little, or Fredrick the Old, Chrysostom is Greek for ‘Golden-Mouthed.’ His most famous sermon was a very short message he gave, on Resurrection Sunday.

His little, tiny sermon, sometimes called a homily, is considered one of the best summaries every written on the Resurrection. So much so, that it continues to be translated into every major language, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is traditionally read in church every year. It’s probably never been read in a UCC worship service, so it’s high time we did:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works, as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors, and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Palm Sunday sermonette

With the choir program today, Lance Haverkamp’s message was very short; just a quick look into the history of the events connecting Passover, Palm Sunday, and the Crucifixion:

Has everyone seen the Cecil B. DeMille epic, with a cast of thousands, The Ten Commandments? The is the 60th anniversary of the film, and it’s back on the big screen today and Wednesday at both the Interquest and the Cinemark.

That covers the older half of the congregation, now for the younger half: How many of you can tell me what the very first film from Dreamworks Studios was? Now this goes back a ways for some of you; it’s before Shrek, before How to train your dragon, even before El Dorado. It’s called The Prince of Egypt; how many of you have seen that? Great, well, it’s also the 20th anniversary of the The Prince of Egypt, and it’s available on both Netflix streaming, and Amazon.

Both of these films depict the Passover. Moses relays God’s message, to choose a lamb without spot or defect; and bring it into the house for 4 days. Of course you know what happens, the children play with the lamb, and become fond of it. During this time the families are told to rid the house of leavening for their bread. You may recall that we talked about leavening as a metaphor for sin, when we looked at the parables a few weeks ago.

After those 4 days they were required to slit the lamb’s throat, taking care not to break any bones. We see them dunking a fist-full of hyssop twigs into the the blood of the slaughtered lamb, and ‘painting’ the doorway. This tells the angel of death to avoid, or passover, these houses where God’s people lived. The blood of this lamb saved these people from death. After this the Israelites remember the passover every year with feast based on these events.

Remembrances of traumatic events tend to become ceremonial, and the practices around Passover became ceremonial as well. Every year, when the shepherds notice a particularly healthy lamb, they’d remember to show it to the high-priest. Every year the priest came-out of the North West gate from the city to select the finest lamb for the temple sacrifice. The high Priest would then carry the lamb, and ride back into Jerusalem sitting on a donkey. The townspeople would wave and lay their palm fronds and their coats, as a path to the temple. The priests would spend the 4 days until the feast inspecting the lamb, to assure that it met with their approval.

When Jesus rode the donkey through the city, the residents were there expecting to see the high priest, riding-though with the lamb. While the disciples were usually the last to figure-out any underlying message; many in the crowd realized what was happening, this Jesus who had been healing the sick, casting-out demons, & raising the dead, was taking the place of both the high-priest, and the lamb.

Christ spent those 4 days defending himself from the questions & accusations of the Pharisees & Sadducees, who eventually had Him brought before Pontius Pilate. They were fed-up with this troublemaker who was out-thinking them at every turn, and pointing-out the flaws in their teachings.

Lessons From The Parables Of The Kingdom Of Heaven

Lance Haverkamp – February 28th, 2016

The Parable of the Sower:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The Parable of the Sower Explained

The Parable of the sower teaches us the importance of the condition of our hearts for the word of God to bear fruit in our lives. If our hearts do not understand the word of God , the devil will take away the word of God from our hearts . We must pay close attention when we hear the word of the God so that we can understand clearly what the Lord is saying to us . Otherwise the word of God will not have any effect in our lives. If our hearts are like stony ground , we may receive the word of God with joy , but we will not endure long because we cannot endure trials and tribulations and we will fall away. If our hearts are like thorny ground , the word of God that we receive will be choked by the thorns such as the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the word of God sown in our hearts will not bear fruit. But if our hearts are like good ground, we will receive the word of God in truth and honesty and we will keep the word in our hearts and bear fruit with patience . We must examine the condition of our hearts if we are not experiencing the power of the word of God . Instead of doubting the faithfulness of the promises of God , we must prepare our hearts to become good soil for the word of God to bear fruit in our lives.

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

The Parable of the weeds teaches us that the enemy may plant weeds in the field of the Lord . We should not be surprised to find evil doers in the midst of the people of God . This is the work of the devil . However the Lord will allow these weeds to remain in the field till the end of the age when he will send his angels to separate these weeds from the wheat and throw all the weeds into the furnace. We must be patient when evil doers and the wicked are not destroyed immediately.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”


The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that in the Kingdom of God , the beginning may be small but the end will be abundant . We should not despise small beginnings . The Lord begins his work in a small way but will cause it to grow abundantly . When we are faithful in the little responsibilities , the Lord will give us great tasks to fulfill.

The Parable of the Yeast

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”


The Parable of the Yeast teaches us the danger of allowing corrupting influences in our lives . A little yeast can leaven the whole lump. The Lord warns us of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees which is their false doctrines and their hypocrisy. The Lord warns us not to take sin lightly as it will soon destroy us completely.

Other theologians say the yeast represents sin, stating that a little sin will soon destroy us completely.

Treasure & Pearls

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”


The Parable of the Treasure hidden in the field teaches us the work of Christ the Messiah for His chosen people , the children of Israel . The Jews are His chosen people and the Lord has paid a great price for their redemption. His great plan for his chosen people will soon be fulfilled. We can also learn from this parable that the treasures of the Kingdom of God are attainable only by those who are willing to pay the price and are willing to sacrifice everything to attain them. The treasures of the Kingdom of God are not for those who live a superficial life reaching out only for those things which are free and easy . The treasures can be obtained only by digging deep . Only when we reach the depths of intimacy in our walk with God , we will obtain the treasures of the Kingdom of God.

The Parable of the pearl of great value teaches us the great price that Christ paid for His Church . Christ loved the church and gave everything that he had and purchased the church with His own blood. We can also learn from this parable the great value of knowing Christ intimately and that we can sacrifice everything for this great privilege. The Apostle Paul realized the great treasure that he gained in knowing Christ intimately that he considered everything he sacrificed for the sake of knowing Christ as loss and rubbish.

The Parable of the Net:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


The Parable of the Net teaches us of the day of Judgment at the end of the age when the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous . Surely there is a reward for the righteous. We need not be disheartened when we see the wicked prosper in this world . The Lord is faithful to reward those who walked before Him uprightly and He will surely punish those who walked in wickedness and iniquity.

We didn’t talk about the Parable of the Wedding Feast, so here’s an article that presents an unusual take on that parable.  This is an interpretation based on the idea that the “End of the Age” was about the end of the Old Covenant–rather than then end of creation.  This is something I agree with, but gets me labeled as a heretic by many:

Christ’s Blessings,


What is the Good News that Jesus came to preach?

Ask a hundred people

Ask a hundred people “What is the Good News that Jesus came to preach?” What answer will you get? Love? Ask Like “Agape” in the Greek? If you don’t know, there are three “Loves” in Greek, Agape is the kind of infinite, unconditional love we think of in Scripture. Eros is erotic love. And Philos means brotherly love—the city of Philadelphia literally means Brotherly Love.

In the Synoptic Gospels, that’s Matthew, Mark & Luke… “Synoptic” is one of those $50 seminary words, which means; presenting or taking the same or common view; relating to or displaying conditions as they exist simultaneously over a broad area. Matthew, Mark & Luke are Synoptic because they are more tightly related to one-another, than the Gospel of John, or any of the non-Biblical stories of Christ’s ministry.

In the Synoptic Gospels, we only see Agape love mentioned once in Matthew, and once in Luke! That’s it! Agape is never mentioned in Mark. John is a little different, both because John was a little different, and because he was writing to a very different audience; John mentions agape a handful of times. But it’s clear that, while Christ was demonstrating how much he cared for those around Him; he certainly wasn’t constantly talking about loving one-another!

Matthew 24:12 “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.”

Luke 11:42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

If not Love, then what?

The early parts of Christ’s ministry was around the water, the Jordan River, like John the Baptist; but after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved into the synagogues.

Mark 1:14-15: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Did you see all three parts there?

  1. The time is fulfilled,
  2. the kingdom of God has come near
  3. repent, and believe in the good news

Now, if you were hear for Ash Wednesday, you heard “repent, and believe in the good news” as that’s the modern saying the the minister quotes, when applying ashes. There’s a similar message in Matthew & Luke, at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Here are some more:

Luke 8:1: Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,

Luke 9:1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

Acts 1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 28:31 Paul lived in Rome two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

So, while some denominations stress conversion, as though the ministry of Christ was all about the minimum entry requirements for Heaven; it’s not! It’s all about the Kingdom of God.

It’s all about the Kingdom of God.

Let’s look at Kingdom. What is Kingdom? It’s a contraction—of the King’s Domain; King-Dom, the king’s domain. Any king’s domain is what? It’s the area in which that king can enforce his will. If you’re far-enough away from the king to break the rules, and avoid the wrath of the king; then you’re outside of the king’s domain, since he can’t enforce his will.

Now we’ve all got a kingdom, you’ve got a kingdom, you’ve got a kingdom, you’ve got a kingdom, and I’ve got a kingdom: My desk appears cluttered to others, but I know what’s there, and where to find things I’m looking for, because that area’s within my domain. When you’ve got a couple of kids in the back-seat of the car, that back-seat becomes their domain. Sometimes they paint an invisible line down the middle of the seat—right? You stay on your side, and I’ll stay on my side. Then they start getting too loud, and Dad speaks-up. Now, Dad thinks the entire car is in who’s domain?

Every week here, we rattle-off the Lords Prayer form our long-term memory, without giving it much thought: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…”

There it is, again, hidden in plain sight. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…So, we are praying for God to be able to enforce His will on Earth, just as easily as He can in Heaven.

In other words, bringing the up there, to the down here.

But why

But why is is all about the Kingdom of God? What are we to learn about God’s plan, from studying this Kingdom of God?

King David represented the Jew’s idea of what the Messiah-Kingdom would be like: A military & cultural powerhouse in the know world. Christ had to completely reeducate their understanding of what the real Kingdom of God was like. The whole notion that “the first will be last, and the last will be first” was an offense to everything they believed, and everything they hoped for. Christ was very clear in stating that He came for the “lost sheep of Israel.” So He needed a message to explain to them, to those lost sheep, that their expectation of a David-like Kingdom was in error.

Likewise when we read Scripture, we must remember that while the Bible, was written for us, most of it was not written to us. Only the books of history can be argued to have been written to unknown future generations. Everything else had a specific audience: Matthew was written to the Jews, and stresses Jesus as being the promised messiah. Mark was a short, fast paced, action story; written for the Roman everyman. Luke was a Greek physician writing to the Greek scientific community; he wanted to convince his audience that Jesus was the perfect man. John was writing to basically everyone else who was educated at that time—and in those days that meant followers for the Stoic philosophers; so John frames his discussion in language that those Stoics would have appreciated.

So when we look at the Scriptures we must keep in mind to whom they were written, and when in the scheme of history, they were written. That’s in addition to things we’ve talked about before, like recognizing metaphors when we see them. Otherwise we start getting some pretty crazy interpretations like:

  • The JW’s, who think the Kingdom of God will be on Earth, after the second coming.
  • The Adventists, who think the Kingdom of God is somehow related to education.
  • The followers of Herbert W. Armstrong, who think the Kingdom of God descends through the British Empire, because, somehow, the decedents of the British Empire, including America, Canada, etc, are the spiritual decedents of the list tribes or Israel.
  • Dispensational Fundamentalists, including most Southern Baptists, and most “Bible churches” draw a difference between the phrase “, ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and try to create some wild future prophecy based on a semantic misunderstanding.

Next week, we’ll look at a whole bunch of Parables, including many that start with the phrase “The Kingdom of God is like…” So, we’re going to pick-up our Kingdom of God discussion next week.

Our Response Is Always In Love

Our Response Is Always In Love

Lance Haverkamp – January 31, 2016

At the end of last week we were asking what the gospel really looks like. How we can be an example of that Gospel to others. The fact that the Gospel really doesn’t look like the popular misconceptions we hear about today. And most importantly, how we communicate that today.

Today’s reading is the well known chapter from Corinthians on Love. Now unless you just converted from Hinduism, you, like me, have heard several sermons, or read several articles on that chapter. You’ve heard it at weddings, you’ve heard it on Valentines Day. Some ministers have even preached an entire series using each of those comments, by Paul, as a separate message! The good news is I’m not about to rehash a Sermon we’ve all heard twelve times.

The really cool thing about following the Liturgical Calendar, we’ve been following lately, is that most of the time, there’s a flow to what we’re learning. Even though we’re jumping from the beginning of Luke, all the way to the middle of 1st Corinthians, it makes perfect sense: Last week we ended with a question, about how to best present the Gospel. And this week we can look at how Paul helped the Church at Corinth answer that very question. It’s almost like we’ve been doing this for 2,000 years, huh?

Corinth was a very important city, especially for those who traveled or traded. It was dangerous to travel around the southernmost part of Greece, due to frequent stormy weather. It was much better to take a shortcut. Traders or travelers could get off their ship near Corinth, carry their cargo across the narrow strip of land (about 4 miles across) and then load it onto another ship. Smaller ships could even be moved across a wooden slipway (a ship tramway with wooden rails) which was laid down from one sea to the other. It was worth all the effort to cross this land, because not only was the other way more dangerous, it was also a much longer trip (about a 200 mile journey). To go the short way over land, through Corinth, saved both time & lives!

Thanks to the apostle Paul’s extensive correspondence with the Corinthians, we are better informed about the church at Corinth than any other first-century church. In 1st Corinthians, in particular, the apostle addresses a wide range of issues affecting the community of believers, including divisiveness, litigation, food offered to idols, and class divisions at the communal meal. In so doing, he gives us an unparalleled, though hardly neutral, picture of the life of an early church.

The church at Corinth included some Jews, but it was largely composed of Gentile, pagan in this case, converts. Paul’s statements makes clear that the majority of church members were socially humble, some were slaves. Paul also implies that some members were wise, powerful, and even of noble birth.

In other words, with all their faults, with all their misconceptions, with all their various respective baggage, they were a whole lot like any modern congregation, anywhere else in the world. They wanted to be good, do right, be helpful, and represent the Gospel.

Most followers in those days, heavily relied on Spiritual Gifts to allow the Holly Spirit to minister to others. We have denominations who still use Spiritual Gifts with frequency. There’s one in the Forest, Gateway down on Shoup is, and there are many others in town.

The Corinthians let their human nature get the best of them, and began to argue amongst themselves about who’s Spiritual Gifts were the most important, and who had the most important jobs. Paul explained it to them like this:

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Later he continues on with:

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And that’s where he jumps into that Reading for today, 1st Corinthians 13.

We’re going to end with Barb coming back up here & reading our Scripture again, because I don’t pretend to think I can say it better that Paul.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong  or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

Lance Haverkamp, January 24th, 2016; inspired by a message of Dr. R. Lee Carter

It was supposed to be a momentous occasion. The local boy who had “made good,” Jesus, was coming home. On his journey away from the old home town, this native son had actually rubbed shoulders with the famous holy man, John the Baptist. Perhaps the residents of Nazareth thought that a little bit of the famous prophet would rub off on him—and them. Nazareth was indeed a one-horse town, and many of the residents were related to Jesus. Like many of us, they probably didn’t know exactly how they were kin, but they were happy to claim him.

When they heard that Jesus was coming home, some no doubt thought of childhood days spent together growing up in the small village, and attending the synagogue school. Maybe some people even treasured something Jesus, the craftsman, had made; and treated it as a souvenir of this memorable homecoming. It would be good to see Jesus again, the same old Jesus they remembered.

The burden of coming home again, is everyone treating you as though you hadn’t changed; but you had changed—Jesus had changed. People assume that because you look about the same, that the changes are superficial, but they’re not. Ask any young person who leaves home, to answer the call of adventure, they are never the same again.
On the journey, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know about when they lived at home. They meet new people, they suffer the trials and temptations of life, they discover the gifts within them that they never would have known about, if they hadn’t left home. They have been on a quest, a hero’s journey; they have seen new heights—and depths. Who can stay the same?

There must have been hearsay about Jesus, about where he had been, and what he had seen. Some knew, even before Jesus had left Nazareth, that he was a young man wise beyond his years. His friends and family would, surely, be glad to see their favorite son again!  That’s why they planned a homecoming for him at the community center, the synagogue.

There, they would give Jesus a chance to tell them what he had learned.
Imagine yourself there: As you sit wondering if your old friend has changed, if fame has affected him, you notice the worship attendant retrieving the scroll of Isaiah out of the ark. A hush falls over the congregation. As he scrolls ahead to a particular passage, as Jesus reads, you realize that Jesus is confirming the hearsay, that he really is the Messiah! He’s bringing a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. He goes on to say that the time for the Lord to set this long awaited movement in motion is now!

The excited worshipers fill the room with praise for their favorite son. We can almost hear the banter: “Hey, I knew it all along that Jesus was going to make something of himself.” “It’s about time we Nazarenes got some limelight!” “He’s going to make all of us famous.”
Think of yourself as being there: You feel the impulse to run and embrace your old friend, thanking him for not forgetting his roots, for remembering the old neighborhood. But Jesus starts to speak, and slowly you realize that he’s not casting your people in a very good light after all. He even implies that foreigners and gentiles will be just as important in the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ own people.

It doesn’t take long for the shocked silence to turn to angry murmurs, and then to loud calls to put this traitor to death! You sit in shock, wondering to yourself, “Is this the Jesus I used to know? I thought he would help us out. Should I join the crowd in getting rid of him? Or, should I give him a chance to explain himself, find out what his plan is, and maybe, even join him in his mission?”

We belong to a generation that needs to re-discover Jesus and not just as the child at Christmas. That precious baby could not speak, but the Jesus who returned to his old synagogue certainly could! The teachings of Jesus still astound us, as long as we don’t assume that what he said fits our own agenda. By the time Jesus returned to Nasarath, He certainly had his own agenda.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What exactly was that agenda? Nothing less than the transformation of the world, as they knew it! He heralded the dawning of the Kingdom of God. But what exactly do we mean by the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is not a place. The Kingdom of God is not an institution. The Kingdom of God is not a spiritual feeling. The Kingdom of God is not a man-made social movement. The Roman Prefect Pilate asked Christ where His kingdom was; He answered “Not of this world.”

I guess a lot of people back in the day figured they knew what Jesus was going to say, before he said it. They knew the old hometown boy, right?
The Jesus of our childhood is not a disturbing Jesus, He is our friend. He says sweet things, He makes us feel good.
The Jesus of the gospels, however, says disturbing things. He doesn’t simply affirm us, and what we do, and what we stand for. He challenges us, and forces us to change the way hometown folk see things. This Jesus had been places we haven’t been. The Jesus of our adulthood demands that we do things outside of our comfort level. He’s really not so gentle, or meek, or mild. Is he the same Jesus we used to know?
Well, not if we have grown up, and realized that Jesus addressed the kinds of things that adults see in the real world. He disturbs us with his talk about possessions, the poor, hypocrisy—the double life. No, he doesn’t seem to be that same familiar hometown boy. He forces us to grow up, and grow in faith. He forces us to see the reality of life’s brutality, and inequities, and calls us to a life of service to others; especially to folks we don’t particularly care for.

Which denominations’ version of the gospel do we find this mature Jesus teaching?
* The prosperity gospel, whose believers are obsessed with accumulating wealth?
No, Christ taught us to share with those in need.
* The equality gospel, whose believers demand that government care for everyone?
No, Christ never said to ‘Give unto Caesar that with is God’s, so Caesar can care for the poor,’ in-fact, He said the poor will always be with you.
* The morality gospel, whose believers can’t tell religious metaphor from sin; and then demand that government punish both as a crime?
No, Christ reduced the entire Law & the Prophets to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

These New Covenant misinterpretations are just a corrupt and self-centered as the those Nazarenes, and the Pharisees, of their day. The Gospel isn’t ‘us against them’, and it never has been!
So let’s allow Jesus to speak for himself. Try to hear his teachings as if you’ve never heard them before. You might try, as much as possible, to put yourself in the shoes of the people who first heard Jesus’ teaching. If you are not blown-out of the water, you are not listening, or you are assuming this is that same hometown boy.
Along with this new side of Jesus, I believe his words, and actions, especially his relationships with the people around him, will reveal that he reaches out to individuals who are lost and floundering. He embraces us just the way we are, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new and abundant life. In short, you will find that Jesus is the same wonderful friend you had known from your neighborhood. There’s just more to him than what you might have known.
In his parables, sermons, and actions, you’ll see Jesus laying out a plan for a human community that cares for all people. Depending on where you are right now, this may be a side of Jesus you’ve never fully experienced before, something a bit unsettling that will demand some hard choices.
As we grow older, it is our responsibility to awaken to a new side of Jesus, who addresses us where we are. That’s why gospel study is so exciting; we know that we have changed and matured. We must not expect Jesus to be the same hometown boy, as it were. We need to listen and not assume.
So what’s it going to be? Are you willing to risk giving your friend a chance to explain himself, to find out what his plan is, and maybe, even to join him in his mission?

Christ’s Baptism, and ours

Lance Haverkamp – January 17th 2016

If you were here two weeks ago, we briefly talked about ritual clensings required by some of the ceremonial/ritual parts of the Old Covenant Law. Sometimes you needed a head-to-toe clensing; you could use a walk-in bathtub sized basin called a “mikvah,” or use a river or lake. These head-to-toe ritual clensings were common, and well understood by the Jews at the time of Christ. In fact, they had also begun dunking new converts into Judaism; these were the so-called “God fearing Greeks” we find mentioned in the New Testament. So when the only son of a Jewish priest, by the name of Johanan ben Zechariah, started baptizing people in the Jordan River, it wasn’t something completely unheard of.
Now as you probably guessed, Johanan ben Zechariah is who we call John the Baptist. Johanan is the Hebrew name for Johnathan, ben means “son of”, and Zechariah was a Preist. An Old Covenant priest, who did his required two tours of service in the Temple every year.
Some of you will recall the family connection between John the Baptist and Christ:
The angel Gabriel told Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” (Luke 1:13–15)
Zechariah doubted this, as both he and his wife were very old. The angel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until these words were fulfilled, because he did not believe. After Zechariah returned home his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months she remained in seclusion—and Zechariah remained silent.
The angel Gabriel was also sent to Mary, then a virgin, who told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth had begun her sixth month of pregnancy. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth Baby John leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, it was that John about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking, hundreds of years before, when he said:
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, and from all of Judea, and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins; he baptized them in the Jordan River.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live, that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with fire.” John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people. (Luke 3: 4-18)
So, this was the kind of gruff, outdoorsy, wild-man we’re talking about in John the Baptist. Not a soft shoulder to cry-on, when you’re having a bad day. This is part of the reason some Early Church theologians were kind-of embarrassed about John baptizing Jesus. Not only was John more than a little off the beaten path; it was also easy to mistake Jesus as a disciple of John…since John was the one doing the baptizing.
Since Sheila read from Luke, I’ll read from Matthew:
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
The entire Trinity took part in Christ’s baptism. The Son said; it should be done—we must carry-out all that God requires. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven, like a dove, to settle on Jesus. The Father said; This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.
No Old Testament animal sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, has ever been truly pleasing to God. It’s impossible to find an animal that didn’t have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was, at best, only symbolic. But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be the true unblemished and spotless sacrifice.
The Jews were told to make those animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin; but with the understanding that a Messiah would come and atone for all sin. The animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ would make through His death.
Likewise, we Baptize for the forgiveness of sins, not directly of course; if water could wash-away sin, Christ didn’t need to come to earth and die. We are practicing the same kind of shadow event that the Jews were practicing. It is through the real event that’s depicted in the baptism; that death into the water, and resurrection out of the grave, that we are forgiven.
For that death and resurrection which truly forgave our sins, Thanks Be To God.

When the last surviving disciples died, someone said “hey, we should write-down all the disciples teachings and sayings that we can remember, if they aren’t already recorded elsewhere.” That short document is called the Didache, which is Greek for Teachings. A section of that was on Baptism, let’s read it:
Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way:
After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water.
But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm.
If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.

Here is the link to read the entire Didache, it’s only a few pages.