Pentecost 5 C

Posted on Sun 19 June 2016 in misc

Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Most weeks it might feel strange to stand up here and preach on a Gospel text that talks about demons.

But after the horrific event in Orlando last Sunday, and the week of media coverage…after imagining the pain inflicted on so many families by violent hatred, after remembering the anniversary of the nine who were killed in their Charleston church…maybe demons aren’t that far from your mind either.

I’m not talking about demons from a Halloween movie. I’m talking about the demons that possess someone to slaughter other people.

In our presiding bishop’s response to the tragedy she said, ‘we are killing ourselves.’ It’s true. When it comes to the human family, there is no ‘us and them,’ there is only ‘we.’ And we are killing ourselves.

Even deeper than the political implications of the shooting, what the presidential candidates may or may not be saying about it, beneath the issues of homophobia and terrorism, there is just a human possessed to destroy 50 of his own fellow humans.

That is demonic.

In Christ we are one body: with the victims and the perpetrators of violence, we are connected as one. But the demons make it very, very hard to see or believe that sometimes.

Jesus certainly encounters the demonic; he seems to bring out the worst in demons wherever he goes.

In today’s Gospel he encounters a man who is possessed by many demons. Like all demons, these ones distort the true identity of the person they live with. And this poor man they live with is driven away from safety (he doesn’t live in a house, but among the tombs) and he is driven away from his neighbors. He is a threat to himself and those around him (when possible, the townspeople have him locked up for safety, but he just breaks away anyways.) The man is cut off from living a real life.

Jesus seems to understand, though, that the demons do not define the man. Jesus literally separates the demons from the man they possess. Jesus sees the human — even if it is distorted by demons — Jesus sees the man. And in doing so, he is able to cast out the demons.

Our common humanity is also an important point of the incredible reading from Galatians that we heard today.

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3.27–29 NRSV)

When Paul wrote these words, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…” he wasn’t just spouting off an interesting thought experiment — you know, like something you’d hear in a Philosophy 101 class.

There is real life, real pain, real violence behind those words in Paul’s experience […]

Paul’s insight, after encountering Jesus, and realizing the violence he had committed in the name of religion, was that no division — however noble and important we may think it is — can define our relationship with God.

We are one in Christ.

This unity is not a perk of membership in our particular faith; it is a commandment, a responsibility; it is the calling of all followers of Christ to regard all others as fellow Children of God. No matter what.

Yes, of course, there are differences among us. We are not the same in Christ. We shouldn’t be.

But with regard to our belovedness by God, and our belongingness to God, we cannot make these distinctions. God does not make these distinctions. Our differences can be cherished, but our worth as humans is completely indifferent to every division that now separates us.

In Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew or Greek…

  • people with disabilities / people without
  • gay / straight
  • cisgender / transgender
  • republican / democrat
  • black / white

Pick a label; it will not diminish your worth, or anyone else’s worth as a child of God.

These categories and ways of identifying ourselves do not go away. But they are no longer criteria for judgment. They can no longer be the cause for violence. They no longer make some better than others. They no longer make some holier than others. Only, only, only our belonging to God makes us or anyone holy.

So, if holiness is belonging to God, then the demonic is anything that works to separate us or others from God. The demonic is any force or ideology that elevates the value of some people over others.

The demonic is being convinced that folks attending a gay nightclub would be any less human, any less deserving of love, any less precious to God than someone else.

The demonic is being convinced that someone could be any less human because of who they worship or where they were born or the color of their skin.

The demonic is being told that you aren’t good enough for God, that the way God created you is wrong.

The demonic is the feeling that one half of our nation is unworthy because they voted for a different presidential candidate than I did.

The demonic lives in us whenever we turn differences into judgement about who is worthy and who isn’t.

It’s time for us to name our demons. It’s time for us to recognize all the ways that we are cut off from God, and all the ways that we cut others off.

Jesus recognized the demonic and he recognized the man before him…Jesus recognizes us.

No matter what the demon is, no matter how it has infected us to believe that we are, or anyone else is, less than deserving of God’s love: Jesus can separate us from that evil.

Jesus restores us to our belovedness, to our belongingness. He does it for all. In the human family, there is no ‘us and them.’ There is only ‘we.’

Pentecost 4 C

Posted on Sun 12 June 2016 in misc

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2Samuel 12.7 NRSV)

This ‘Jerry Springer’-style reveal is from our first reading today.

…[Summary of 2 Sam drama]…

David himself says what he deserves for what he’s done. The ultimate punishment. I mean, he used his great power to take a less powerful man’s life, just so he could feel a little bit better about taking advantage of that man’s wife, Bathsheba. That’s despicable.

And yet God forgives him.

But: God’s forgiveness of David doesn’t make what he did ‘OK’:

David has to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life — and his family does, too. If you read through the rest of the story about that family, it’s as dramatic, violent, and vengeful as any soap opera. The pain and deceit seem to ripple down through the generations.

And David knows it. He even writes Psalm 51 as his confession (“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”)

But both before and after his treachery with Uriah and Bathsheba, all of David’s power can’t produce the right thing. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put things back together again. Even his bold leadership and incredible psalms and eventual keen awareness of what he did wrong can’t bring back Uriah.

That’s a lesson we start learning as toddlers and continue to have to learn our whole lives: just feeling really sorry doesn’t fix everything.

If you can’t win by winning, and you can’t win by losing, what’s the point of feeling guilty?

If your guilt doesn’t save you, what does?

The Gospel lesson today is also a story about guilt and forgiveness.

…[Summary of Gospel story]…

Just like Nathan used a story to convict David of his sin, Jesus uses a story to tell Simon, the Pharisee, about the forgiveness of sin.

…[Story of the creditor & two debtors]…

And so interestingly, Jesus connects sins and forgiveness with love.

“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7.47 NRSV)

You might not think that sin and forgiveness go together with love.

There are a lot of religious folks that like the idea of love, but want to stop talking about sin. And I totally get it. Sin sounds old-fashioned. It seems like dwelling on the negative aspects of our relationship with God instead of the positive. And certainly, when it comes to judging the sins of others, we should give up on the sin-finger-pointing. But when it comes to the reality of the brokenness of humanity, and the sin in our own lives, we need the perspective that comes with an honest appraisal of where we are. We need to confess our sins.

Because the funny thing is, if we try to ignore the conversation that comes along with sin, there’s a worse anxiety that creeps in instead. Whether we’re trying to justify ourselves by ignoring our deficiencies or by wallowing in them, we’re still trying to justify ourselves.

Without perspective, we start to imagine that we are in charge. That we are like God. We act like David and take from others what we want for ourselves. We act like Simon the Pharisee and judge others as below us in order to make ourselves feel better.

But our invitation — our freedom — is to be like the woman washing Jesus’ feet.

She wasn’t saved by her good works — she was called a sinner and didn’t dispute it. But neither was she saved by her guilt, or her bad works, or her contrition…Jesus said, she was saved by faith. She was saved because her mistakes turned her toward Jesus.

None of us will be saved by good works. If someone called me a sinner, I couldn’t dispute it, and neither could you.

But if we are honest about our sin — if we know how much we have been forgiven, then our faith will turn us toward the One who can save us. We will be drawn toward the One who forgives. We will love the one who loves us first. And in the freedom of our forgiveness, we are given the ability to love others — our fellow sinners.

Remember, this is about forgiveness not perfection. And here’s the irony of what it means to grow as a follower of Christ: the more we follow Christ, the longer we live, the more we need to be forgiven for! And the more we’re forgiven — the more room there is for love in our lives.

This is important! The invitation that each of us has, and that each of us can share with others around us is to grow as a follower of Christ. But not to grow more like a Pharisee that can look down on others, but to grow in our awareness of how much we need forgiveness, and the awareness of how much God forgives.

And then in the freedom of that forgiveness, to share love with others.

Pentecost 3 C

Posted on Sun 05 June 2016 in misc

1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

I have to confess that my first reaction to these two ‘raised from the dead’ stories is somewhere between unease and skepticism.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and I’ve never had anyone climb out of the coffin.

At face value, these stories seem hopeful. (Wow! Look what Jesus and Elijah can do!) But they also raise questions for me:

  • if Jesus could do this for one, why didn’t he do it for many? You’d think with this power that Jesus would seek out people like this young man who left a widowed mother and save them. In today’s Gospel, it almost seems like an accident that Jesus runs into them.
  • Who did Jesus do this raising for? For the man himself? For his mother? For the disciples and crowd? Or for himself since encountering this grieving group caused Jesus to feel compassion?
  • Since this has happened before, should we expect that this will happen again? Should we hold out hope for our loved ones to rise at their funerals?

Story about man at his father’s death bed […]

Since I didn’t know the father, his death wasn’t unusually sad for me. But what haunted me was the fact that his son had put all his hope and faith into the belief that God was going to open his father’s eyes there in that bed, and let him rise to his feet. And I knew that at some point, the son was going to have to confront the fact that his faith was misplaced. I was sad for the anguish and struggle that would lead up to that moment, and I was sad for what would happen to this man’s faith in that moment that he would come to know that his father had indeed died. He was about to feel broken; defeated; in the pits.

God will not be raising many of us from our coffins at our funerals. For your sake, I hope you aren’t putting all your trust in that.

But God is raising each of us today. From our struggles, from our weakness. From our memories and trauma of life in the pits.

Has there been a time when your life was in the pits?

“O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol [(the grave)], restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” (Psalms 30.3 NRSV)

Sheol, the grave, the Pit, is really the power of death over our lives. Its power is not just when we die…the power of the grave looms over our living, too.

If you’ve spent some time in the pits — and it starts younger than we want to remember (I’m looking at you Middle School) — then you’ll want to really know this Psalm, because it’s for you.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Psalms 30.11–12 NRSV)

Yes, the resurrection stories remind us that God holds our lives dear and that God has power even over death. But the Psalm reminds us of what it feels like to be resurrected!

You might think that the Gospel of Luke really could just end after Jesus raised this man from the dead. In terms of his power, and proving who he was, I would think that reversing (or even indefinitely postponing) death would be good enough. What more could you ask for? I could see the Gospel reaching its highest point here, with Jesus winning the battle against death.

But it doesn’t end there.

It’s not enough for God to simply ‘join us on the other side.’ It’s not enough for Jesus to stand beside our death beds and call us to rise.

The real heart of the Gospel is that Jesus joins us where we lie. Jesus takes on our pain and death.

And just as Jesus knows what it is to suffer and feel loss; to be in the pits; to bear insults; to lose… so do we know what it is to rise. To be clothed with joy. To be healed; to be restored to life.

When that son stood in that hospital room and called to his father, “I say to you rise!” He believed that Jesus was standing beside him, calling his father to do the same. But see, that part of the Gospel had already past. Jesus wasn’t standing beside the death bed; Jesus had climbed into the death bed. Jesus had joined this father in his death, so that even in death, he might find the love of God and eternal life.

That life begins not on your death bed, but now. As you experience new life. As your mourning turns to joy. As you are lifted up out of the pits of life and given new chances.

God has promised eternal life and it begins now. God has promised to turn our mourning into dancing.

Pentecost C

Posted on Sun 15 May 2016 in misc

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

This may be hard to imagine if you grew up in the church, but many folks in our lives don’t have a Christian background at all. So, let’s try to imagine for a moment. Some of you won’t have to imagine…If you were brand new to the Christian faith, then I’d think one of the more difficult concepts to grasp would be the Holy Spirit. Even if you have spent your life around church folks, it might still seem to be a nebulous idea.

And if you were to go to the Bible in search of answers, and you chose the Scriptures that we’ve heard today about the Holy Spirit — your first response might be more rather than less confusion. Because, although the four readings, from the Psalm, to Jesus’ promise of the Spirit, to the Pentecost story in Acts, to Paul’s description of the Spirit in the book of Romans, all either beautifully describe or foretell what we call the Holy Spirit, they all describe the Spirit differently.

Part of this might be:

  • endlessly new ways that God interacts with the world
  • indescribable nature of the Spirit itself

Here, and elsewhere in the Bible, and among the theologians that came after the Bible, the faithful people trying to understand Scripture have drawn on Greek Philosophy to describe the Spirit.

  • unmoved mover; emanation, radiation; light, Word
  • not a terrible image for God; it’s biblical after all

But the Spirit doesn’t have its roots in metaphysics, but rather in the body, as breath.

In both the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek New Testament, the words for spirit is the same as breath and wind.

This is also a useful image for God’s Spirit. Think: the breath is always there, all day long; there are days we don’t even think about it; it’s invisible, often unknown to us, but it’s the foundation of our life.

Jesus seems to agree. He uses the Spirit to describe the closeness of God.

It all starts when Philip tells Jesus he wants to see the Father; Jesus makes it a teaching moment.

““Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14.9 NRSV)

But since Jesus is preparing his disciples for a time when Jesus is no longer able to be seen among them, he promises to ask the Father to send the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

That Spirit, Jesus says, is coming to teach the disciples, to remind them of his words. The disciples will know the Spirit, the Spirit abides with them, and will be in them, even though the world neither sees nor knows the Spirit.

As promised, the Spirit does come.

In the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus (and by now there are 120) are together, waiting for this Spirit; wondering what it will look like, what it will be like, what it will ask them to do.

“Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2.2 NRSV)

It called all of them; each of them. An individual tongue of fire rested over each follower of Christ as if to say, yes, Philip, even disciples who ask silly questions are called; yes, Peter, even disciples who fall down on their job are called; tongues of fire rested over women whom the biblical authors apparently didn’t think deserved to have their names recorded, yet God sent the Spirit to them, too.

Many there didn’t have their names recorded and didn’t rise to celebrity, yet were called to share in God’s kingdom.

Their call was to do something they couldn’t do. Those tongues of fire weren’t just decorations, they were symbols of the new languages that the disciples found themselves able to speak. New abilities that were given to them through the Spirit.

The Spirit empowered them to do something they could never do on their own.

Maybe part of the reason that the Spirit is so difficult to describe is that God needs people like each of you, in every age to be a part of the mission. Even — maybe especially — if you don’t feel like you fit the mold for a spiritual person. Each of you here has that tongue of fire resting over you, signalling that God is calling you to be a part of something new. Not just in your life, but for the life of the world.

And what it looks like? It looks like doing something you didn’t previously think you could do. Maybe it’s a regular old Galilean suddenly speaking in the language of the Parthians or Medes. Maybe it’s taking the first step in a relationship with someone that doesn’t speak the same language as you. Maybe it’s mentoring a young person even if you don’t have any idea what you might have in common with a middle schooler or high schooler. Maybe it’s talking to your neighbor who is struggling to take care of a parent with dementia, even though you don’t know how you could help.

I have to tell you that becoming a parent is a whole lot of being called to do something I didn’t believe that I could do.

This is where the Holy Spirit comes to life: in the gap between what we think we can do, and what God calls us to do. This is the Spirit, whom Jesus promised would come. The Spirit, who, when our words fail us, gives us new ones.

God’s power in the world that the world doesn’t see or know. As strange and mysterious as tongues of fire…

But as close and natural as your breath; always with you; giving you life.

Easter 7 C

Posted on Sun 08 May 2016 in misc

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Jesus has one final prayer before he is betrayed and taken into custody. His disciples heard it, and remembered it after the resurrection.

  • entire 17th chapter
  • different from Gethsemane prayers in synoptic Gospel
  • prays for his followers

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” (John 17.20 NRSV)

Jesus actually says he is praying for those who will hear about and come to trust him through the words of the disciples.

In other words: Jesus is praying for you and me. Built into this prayer is concern for the future followers of Christ.

And this is his prayer for us:

“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17.21 NRSV)

Jesus prays that his followers are one.

There are at least 200 different Christian denominations in the United States alone. I wonder what Jesus would think about that. Are we one?

Interesting, in a time when denominations are decreasing in influence…

  • grouping non-denominational churches together would make them the first or second largest denomination
  • many people less tied to a particular denomination
  • many younger folks find bickering between churches to be not just irrelevant, but a major turn off

On the bright side:

  • Presbyterian Church, Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church, and United Methodist Church are all Full Communion Partners.

Just last year, the Roman Catholic Church and Lutherans released a document with 32 points of agreement suggesting the growing unity between people whose faith separated them 500 years ago.

In general, Christians seem to find find more than unites us than divides us these days.

But still, if you listen closely to the words of Jesus, he’s praying for something more than denominational agreements.

He prays that we are one as he and God are one. That we are loved the way Jesus, the only Son of God, is loved by his father. Real unity.

In fact, I would go so far to say that we can only be one — only find real unity — through the love of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, we cannot do it ourselves. Our old ways of making unity will always be inadequate.

At times, it has seemed to work when humans found unity in their politics, their language, their culture, their skin color, what they like, who they are attracted to…but in the end, we will never be united in those things. Those things break down. As a church, we can never and should never be in full agreement on anything except the One that we follow.

3 inadequate ways of dealing with our differences:

  • being nice and ignoring our differences; passive aggressive
    • Midwestern nice?
    • foolish; dishonest
    • when push comes to shove, you have to…
  • forcing our way upon others; aggressive
    • not just arrogant; tries to take God’s place
    • some of the harshest words of Jesus come against those who put themselves up as a judge of their neighbors
    • usually ignores the faults in our own lives
  • giving up and going along with others; passive
    • dismisses our call from God
    • we are weaker when we try to all be the same

The kind of unity that Jesus prays for cannot be achieved by being aggressive, passive, or passive aggressive.

If we can’t force unity, and we can’t be forced into it, how do we do it? How do we deal with the differences among us?

Jesus prays that we are one just as he and God are one. They are one in love. Their unity comes from a relationship based on love.

Even within the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit there are different persons, yet they are one in love.

  • you be you and I’ll be me; we are different and we have to be OK with that.

Jesus cares deeply and selflessly for the world; but does not give in to it either

  • even when his closest friends abandon and betray him, Jesus does not stray from his mission, or forget who he is
  • when he is tempted to be anyone or anything else, Jesus refuses; he remembers who he is
  • a casual reading of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus never ‘goes along to get along’… he never takes the easy way out.

Jesus brings unity; Jesus deals with difference; Jesus draws us closer together by being neither passive nor aggressive, but instead by loving.

The only way to connect with God, to know ourselves, and to understand others is through love. By recognizing the image of God in others — no matter how different they are. By seeking to affirm and protect the place of others in God’s kingdom without denying our own. This love is not ours to control but has been God’s mission since before the founding of the world.

Love is God’s original mission, it’s the fervent prayer of Jesus, and it’s our hope to find unity with God, with our neighbors and with ourselves.

Easter 6 C

Posted on Sun 01 May 2016 in misc

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-2

Even Jesus had to make plans for the future.

Are you a planner? Do you like to plan things out in advance?

… living with a 3 month window for two years … not terribly easy, especially with a small child … but then again, I know plenty folks live paycheck to paycheck where something like catching the flu can end your job and force you to change almost everything in your life.

Everything did change for the first followers of Jesus — both when he came into their lives, and when he left.

In these weeks after Easter, we’ve been reading together through passages of Scripture that deal with the struggle of those first disciples after the Resurrection. Their question is also ours: what do we do now?

Jesus left them. Jesus is still not here in the conventional sense. If he was, we could each ask him all our important questions and get to the bottom of the deep mysteries of life. Then again, Jesus never was very conventional, even when he was here.

Every follower of Jesus has to contend with the basic truth that Jesus is not here in that sense. We followers of Jesus have been doing it since those first twelve.

Luckily, Jesus was planning ahead.

The gospel that we’ve heard today is Jesus’ response to the disciples asking basically, How will we know what to do if you’re leaving us? Not only was Jesus leaving, but he was about to do so in a way that would confound the ways of the world.

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”” (John 14.22 NRSV)

And Jesus answers that he’s been planning ahead. He promises the Holy Spirit will come. And he leaves his Peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14.27 NRSV)

What would happen in this world, if suddenly, all at once, everyone felt this Peace? If every person’s heart became untroubled, and unafraid?

We have no idea, because it’s never happened!

Instead our hearts are guarded against what others might do to us. Fear & anger are infectious…as we seek to protect ourselves, we pass along fear and anxiety to others. To be honest, when I think of peace, I mostly just think of being safe from others.

But Jesus says, I do not give to you as the world gives. Jesus brings a different kind of peace.

Jesus draws on his faith … Hebrew shalom…

… ancient but nonconformist: the type of peace Jesus had already been teaching his disciples was so unusual in this world that it often looked miraculous. Jesus believed in abundance for a crowd of 5000 people. He cared enough for a wedding party to turn water into wine. We call them miracles; Jesus would call it peace.

But it’s not just about a free lunch and flowing wine: Jesus believed in a risky peace. His peace brought him in contact with sick people. “Undesirable” people. People who were labeled ‘sinners.’ People who lowered Jesus’ honor and social standing, just by being associated with him. The Prince of Peace began his own life entrusted to a young woman with no experience raising children and who had very little power or resources in this world.

Jesus leaves a different kind of peace — one that aims for nothing less than a renewal of the whole world. Everything: our selves, the Earth around us, our relationships…

It’s a peace like that described in Revelation, where all people are welcome to come together, gathered around the Tree of Life which produces fruit for all and brings healing to all the nations.

A peace that brings not just safety, but abundant life for all who participate in it together.

This is the peace that Jesus leaves with the disciples. That different kind of peace that he gives.

Unfortunately, we cannot magically share that peace with every single troubled and afraid heart all at once. But we can begin with ourselves.

Jesus has made plans for the future, for our future. And God’s promised future changes our present. And not in the sense that we all have to act good now so that we can get access to that future. God’s promised future gives us freedom and permission to live in peace now, even if all the world doesn’t reflect that peace yet.

God’s future frees us to live with peace that is both very old, and very new…the freedom to live generously towards others in a world that teaches us to accumulate as much for ourselves as possible. To have a generosity that is so unusual in this world it can appear miraculous.

God’s future frees us to live with peace that is risky and bold. It invites us to connect with those at the margins — those we believe are unlovable, dangerous, unwanted. It invites us to see them not as targets of our charity but people to eat with. People to listen to.

God’s future for us means peace begins now. A peace that brings not safety, but abundant life. Life so abundant that it spills over our borders to share with others.

In God’s future, every heart is touched and changed; given life. And because we share in this future, God has already begun to change your hearts. Do not let them be troubled; do not let them be afraid.

Easter 5 C

Posted on Sun 24 April 2016 in misc

The first version of this sermon was going to be about revolutionary love…


“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19.18 NRSV)

The majority of the ten commandments are about caring for our neighbors.

Not just the neighbors that are like us:

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19.34 NRSV)

You could argue that from the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, that God created humans to be together. To love one another.

With all due respect to Jesus: loving your neighbor is not a revolutionary commandment — it is God’s design from the beginning.

But even if it’s built into God’s hopes and dreams for humanity, everyone here already knows that we don’t always follow through on the command to love. In fact, we often fail miserably.

In your own daily life, and in the world around you, you have probably witnessed numerous examples of neighbors not loving neighbors. Jesus’ command to love one another is only 3 words, but it’s the hardest thing for us to do, isn’t it? I could give you examples from just the last week where I did not love my neighbor; I’m guessing you can, too.

We are in good company.

Some of my absolute favorite parts of the Bible are where God’s chosen people make just terrible mistakes. Whether through malice, or foolishness, or small-mindedness, they consistently bungle God’s commandments. From literally the first two people that God created who couldn’t follow the one rule that God gave them, to Jacob’s schemes, to David’s ‘moral failures,’ to Peter’s impetuousness…the candidates that God backs are really a bunch of jokers.

As a leader in the church, I, at least, find this comforting. Now, I’m not shirking responsibility or accountability for leaders who mess up. I do believe that those who hold power should be held to an extremely high standard. But I also see in hindsight that God seems to relish bringing forth the kingdom through the mistakes of some very imperfect people. And if there’s hope for them…there’s hope for us, too.

If there’s one thing better than biblical leaders messing up, it’s biblical leaders changing course and discovering an even broader picture of God’s love. It’s the jokers being redeemed.

  • Early followers of Jesus among Jews and Gentiles
  • The set of rules that had made people of Israel distinct was losing its purpose in a new setting
  • Peter’s vision; seeing the Holy Spirit moving beyond his own imagination

“When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”” (Acts 11.18 NRSV)

These early church leaders realized that by excluding some people — the Gentiles — even though it seemed to follow their time-tested and biblical rules — that they were failing to love their neighbors. When the Holy Spirit helped them see a broader vision of God’s love, they began baptizing all kinds of people as followers of Jesus.

The command to love your neighbor is not revolutionary. What is revolutionary is what happens when God’s timeless loves breaks into our current time and situation.

Like the Acts community, we in this time are charged with the command to love our neighbors. And just like them, we are surely missing out on the whole picture. Our baptism is a constant reminder that God’s life-giving love breaks into our world. Into our current situation.

Our baptism reminds us that we are, each of us, the intersection between God’s love and this world. God chooses the times and places to break into our world, and God chooses you. Jesus wasn’t revolutionary because he talked about love in a new way, but because he embodied love. His body and presence brought God’s love into every part of life and creation, especially to the parts that were sick, hurting, and excluded.

That is the revolutionary love that we are commanded to embody as well. If you have felt the love of God in your life…how can you share it? How can you let it break into the world, starting with you? What new thing is God doing in our time and place?

God’s love isn’t new, but it makes us new, and it makes the world — this world — new.

Easter 4 C

Posted on Sun 17 April 2016 in misc

Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10.24 NRSV)

  • Jesus is asked this, but universal desire
  • Who hasn’t, at some point, asked, “God…if you are my God…why don’t you make it clear? Black and white. In words I understand.”

This is the appeal of fundamentalist religion, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc. It seems easier to follow a religious path that answers every question for us. Plainly. In ways we understand.

If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10.24 NRSV)

When Jesus’ challengers say this, essentially that are saying, we will recognize God only when God makes sense to us. We will only believe when God appears in the box we have created for God.

They are not interested in learning, growing, discovering…they are interested in answering, proving, and winning.

This attitude is a mistake — both for these folks arguing with Jesus in the Gospel of John, and also for us modern believers.

Wanting only answers. To be proven right. Wanting to win the argument.

It is looking for God on our terms; in our image. It limits our conception of God. It causes us to miss when God is doing a new thing.

Even worse is the temptation for everyone, from all beliefs and creeds, yes, even Lutherans, to abuse the freedom and righteousness in our faith. When we believe that our faith gives us the privilege of always being right no matter what, we become insufferable at best, and violently oppressive at worst.

Since before the time of Jesus to the present day, people have used their religious certainty to control others, and to consolidate power.

And Jesus knows it. When he’s asked to declare plainly that he’s the Messiah, he gets right to the heart of the matter.

“but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (John 10.26 NRSV)

  • harsh way to explain faith
  • not about exclusivity; but about real relationship; not about power but love
  • my sheep hear my voice (recognize in a different way)
  • I know them; they follow me

This is important because real faith is not so much about black and white answers. It’s not so much about rules and being right. It’s about being in a trusting relationship with God.

About recognizing our place in that relationship. And God’s place. We are the sheep not the shepherd.

Although we don’t always act like it, most religious believers would say that God is the almighty one in the relationship. That the universe revolves around God, and not us. If we’re not careful, though, we start to identify ourselves with that power more and more until we get excited about God’s power, because we believe it’s ours.

That’s why this reading from Revelation is so striking and profound. It’s describing basically a worship service in which all people gather around God, ascribing honor and glory and power and might forever and ever. At the center of this power and might, you might expect to find the greatest, strongest shepherd of all time.

Instead we find a lamb.

“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,” (Revelation 7.17 NRSV)

When we expect a strong, clear, powerful, black and white image of God on our terms, in our understanding — God appears instead unexpectedly. In love and sacrifice. In weakness and humility.

Our shepherd is the one that not only walks with the sheep but becomes one like us.

We recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd not in outward signs of power and might. That would be on our terms. Instead, we recognize the shepherd in the lamb.

Our faith is a relationship with God who is both the Good Shepherd, who protects us and seeks justice in this Kingdom, and also the lamb, who suffers with us and forgives us.

We know the voice of the Good Shepherd and we follow — not in search of power or control or being right — but in search of real relationship.

In that relationship, we discover the real power of our Good Shepherd: that no one and nothing can ever snatch us out of God’s hand — not our shortcomings nor the shortcomings of others; not frustration; not right or wrong thinking; not even death.

Because even in death the Shepherding Lamb holds us in relationship raises us to eternal life.

Our faith will not give us all the answers. It will not make the world appear as black and white. It will not give us the authority to wield power over others.

But it does give us the opportunity to gather with others before the unexpected Grace of God where we hunger no more; thirst no more; where God wipes away every tear.

Where we live secure in our relationship with the Good Shepherd who lives among us. Jesus knows us, and we follow him.

Easter 3 C

Posted on Sun 10 April 2016 in misc

Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

This is a story about what the disciples were doing after the Resurrection.

Post Easter Sunday / Post Resurrection

Setting for third appearance

  • have the disciples run away?
  • or just living real life.
  • what’s different?
  • the world? Not that different.
    • Herod, Pilate, the Emperor all still in charge
    • Chief priests are still the religious experts
  • still fish to catch, don’t always cooperate.

The question is how do disciples recognize Jesus now that he has been crucified by a world that, at least at first, barely seemed to notice him? (In all of the Roman records that have survived from the time period of Jesus, there is exactly one record of him, and (this is true): they spelled his name wrong.

  • if the world wasn’t immediately changed…how do the disciples recognize Jesus?
  • for us? We have almost the opposite problem. A lot of things claim to be Jesus.

It is the abundance of fish that alerts the disciples.

“[Jesus] said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” (John 21.6–7 NRSV)

153…one of the disciples actually counted!

Not just abundance…not storing up or accumulating, but an abundance of sharing. The fish aren’t meant to be impressive — they’re meant to be shared!

Where is there abundance in your life?

  • hospital room example
  • when we gather as church we celebrate abundance


  • at what point do churches stop being shared celebrations of God and start becoming fancy buildings meant to show off?
  • at what point does our Easter worship attendance stop being the number of lives touched by the news of the Resurrection and start becoming a number we use to compare our congregation to other congregations…
  • how do we see the gifts in this room as abundance meant to be shared for the sake of the world around us?

The answer is right here in the Gospel and it hinges on love.

This post-Resurrection story has two different purposes to it…the first is as a “Recognition” story…Jesus shares a miracle of abundant love with the disciples and in it — they recognize Jesus.

But then, the story shifts purposes; Jesus takes that love and looks at it from the other direction. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter says, “Yes,” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”

In other words, loving the Lord is tied to loving the people the Lord loves.

“A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”” (John 21.16 NRSV)

Do you notice that something must be important about this question since Jesus asks it a second time? From Peter’s perspective, once was too many times to ask. But then Jesus asks a third time!

““Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21.17 NRSV)

It’s embarrassing how often we need to be reminded what love is.

Love is how we recognize God changing our lives — and love is how we change the world.

Even in a world that takes little notice of God, God changes us. God gifts us with abundance. And then we share it with others the way Jesus did.

God’s love is miraculously abundant. There is enough love even for sometimes-crabby, sometimes-stubborn, and always-imperfect disciples, like Peter. Like you. Like me.

When Jesus showed up this third time after the Resurrection in John’s Gospel, the disciples were just out fishing — out in real life.

As we move on from our celebrations of the Resurrection on Easter morning, we, too, may find ourselves out there in some boring, imperfect, or challenging situations.

In a world that can seem totally unmoved by the news of God’s love. This is where we come to know God’s love. And this is where we make God’s love known.

Easter 2 C

Posted on Sun 03 April 2016 in misc

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

  • Far Side carton with scientist prank-bombing other scientist

I wonder if the disciples felt a little like this when Jesus appears … and of all things announces peace. Peace! Peace in the midst of danger.

They are certainly in danger — leader has been killed by people who were so threatened by his message that they would rather Jesus be brutally killed than listen to it.

This is the message that the disciples have been trained in. That they have put their trust in. That they have been called to share. A message that puts them in danger.

On Easter Sunday, that message becomes more urgent and more dangerous, because something dramatic happens: Jesus is not to be found among the dead. It’s like the world has been turned upside down.

And whether the disciples like it or not, they are at the middle of this commotion. So they take the necessary precautions. Just a few hours after being informed by those very first apostles — the women at the tomb — that Jesus has been raised, the eleven disciples huddle up, lock the door and hide.

If you really put yourself in their position, I’ll bet you can’t blame them. Have you ever wanted to hide from the world?

[Story about fight in church.] All the peace he had hoped for seemed to be no match for the hatred among his own congregation members. (I wonder what the sharing of the peace was like that Sunday…)

I don’t expect any brawling today in our congregation but the truth is, if you had to describe the state of our world today, would you use the word peace?

If you’ve followed along with the Presidential Election and the debates…have you heard a lot of the word peace?

Currents events over the last couple years have revealed that there is a lot more fear and sometimes hatred buried beneath the surface than I thought. You could use a lot of words to describe our society, but I don’t think peace would be your top choice.

It’s enough, sometimes, to make you want to hide. To lock the doors. To shut others out. That’s what the disciples did.

And the nerve of Jesus to sneak up on them and to actually say “Peace be with you,” in the middle of all that fear. And not only that, but Jesus shows them his scars! Doesn’t it seem strange to go right from saying peace to showing off his wounds and scars of the crucifixion?

Well, however startled they had been by his appearance, the disciples rejoice to see their leader again face to face.

Except, of course, for Thomas. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples in the room, Thomas was out, and he is notorious for his almost morbid insistence on seeing and even touching the wounds of Jesus before he would believe.

You could take that to mean that Thomas had a weaker faith. That he needs more proof because he’s less serious of a disciple. But it could be that Thomas needs more proof because of how serious he is.

It could be that Thomas knows about pain. That Thomas knows what’s at stake. Maybe Thomas already knows that all the Peace in the world appears to be no match for the kind of fear and anger that will confront the Gospel message.

I think Thomas knows that to be a disciple of peace in a world of fear means he will always be in some danger. That he will experience pain for the sake of the Gospel, just as Jesus did. And he knows it.

But seeing the hands of Jesus with the marks of the nails, touching the side where he was pierced, and hearing Jesus, despite his wounds say, “peace” … Thomas learns that that fear, anger, and pain do not get to win.

Thomas knew there would be pain. He needed to know that Peace was stronger.

Part of our journey in growing as disciples is to also declare Peace, even when Peace seems outmatched by fear. Even when the shouting, and name-calling seem to drown it out. Even when intimidation tempts us to hide. Even when insults push our buttons and tempt us to react.

Even when we know that pain will come from it…we are called to share the peace.

We are the disciples, struggling with fear, locked in this room. With every hand shake, Jesus stands in our midsts and says, “Peace be with you.”

Think about that during the sharing of the peace.

Every person that shakes hands and shares the peace today has to struggle with pain. Every hand shake connects two people that are afraid of something.

But peace is stronger.

Into this and every locked room, Jesus enters in, knows our fear, shares our pain, and shows us that peace is stronger.

Out of this and every locked room, Jesus calls us to share the peace with others who live with pain. Who harbor fear. Whose anger and violence will hurt others. (They will hurt us.)

But, see, we know that Peace wins.