Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity 101 Trinity Sunday 2019

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

8:2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

8:3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

8:4 "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.

8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth--

8:26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil.

8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,

8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

8:30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,

8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Pastor Carol Cavin Dillion from Christ united Methodist church in Tennessee tells the story of when she was the asked if she could speak to the first-grade Sunday school class. The topic was worship, and she was to meet with the children in the sanctuary so that they could get a close look at the baptismal font, the altar, and the paraments.

So she met the youngsters at the front of the sanctuary. The children’s minister had asked her to wear her robes so that the children could see them and they could talk about it. After they toured the sanctuary and talked about colors and symbols, remember the Methodists have a high church style everything has a purpose and everything has a meaning. She sat down with them and asked if they had any questions. One little girl looked down, pointed at the white stole and said, “What’s that thing?”
She replied, referring to the intricate design upon the stole, “It’s a symbol of the Trinity.” “What’s the Trinity?” the little girl asked. “Uh. . . .” For the next five minutes (which seemed like an eternity) she found herself trying to explain the Trinity to a group of first graders.
 By the time she finished hemming and hawing, they looked so confused! How in the world do you teach a bunch of six-year olds about the most complicated theological concept in the book? The answer might be just to wait until they’re older. A six-year-old is too young for Narnia, much less the Trinity!
Perhaps we should wait till they’re teenagers. Or even adults.  Because we adults can handle such theological complexities, right? We’ve been to school. We’ve studied literature and algebra and biology and philosophy. Heck, some of us even have a Masters and PhD! surely it’s easy for us to understand and explain the Trinity Right?
Okay Go…
A professor in a seminary jokingly once tried to explain it like this: “It makes perfect sense. God is three . . . is one . . . is three. Get it?”


Okay this concept is hard to wrap our brains around.  And I admit it is not even part of everyone’s theology.   But I grew up with it and so I wanted to explore the concept. It has been explained like the Shamrock.  The Trinity just as the shamrock is one plant with three leaves; God is one God with three faces.  Then there is the water metaphor as H2O can take three forms in ice, liquid, and steam, so God has three forms. The Trinity!

To be honest the Trinity is one of those elements of faith that tends to be taken for granted.  It is a foundation of what many Christians believe about God, yet I would venture to say, that most don’t even try to wrap their minds around it. We believe in God the creator, Christ the redeemer and the Holy Spirit the sustainer and we speak of the three as one and just leave it at that.

Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday. But do we have any idea what we’re talking about? Is the Trinity just an obscure concept that we give lip service to because the church calendar tells us to or the traditions we came from declare it as absolute doctrine? Does it have anything to do with our daily living? Think about it—what does the Trinity mean to you?

In our readings this morning and throughout our worship this morning we have heard references to God and how God self is revealed to us.  In the opening of Proverb we hear speech of wisdom and it is spoken of in the feminine which is a common concept of the spirit.  Then later it proclaims how “I” was given birth before the first acts of creation this is often heard of and referred to as Jesus. Mathew calls us all to baptize in the name of the trinity. In John Jesus expresses unity with God and the Holy Spirit, and he speaks of three unique persons doing three different jobs: Abba God shares the Son; God the Son stands among the disciples, teaching of the spirit; God the spirit helps interpret and teach the truth that comes from Abba God and the Son.

We often speak of God as the creator and God loves creation and wants us to love creation as well. One way that God teaches us how to love creation and one another is in the person of Jesus Christ. As John and the other gospel writers tell us, Jesus walked alongside us on this earth to show us the face of God. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God becomes our Redeemer. Now, we spend a lot of time in the church talking about Jesus. We learn about Jesus’ teaching, his example, his healing, and his love. The gospel stories give us something tangible to hold onto. Jesus gives us all sorts of guidance on how to live our lives. It’s not hard to find ways that Jesus is relevant to our lives.

The concept of A Trinitarian or triune god speaks of God in relationship. Abba, Son and Spirit have always existed in relationship, loving relationship, with each other.  Lady wisdom declares I was there in that moment of creation alongside the Son and Abba.  I was having fun, stirring the elements, sparking life and rejoicing in the dance that was creation.  In the opening verse of the song “The Lord of the Dance” it states:

“I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth
  That energy that drives the dance…that energy that makes us want to dance. That is spirit and the dancer is Jesus and God the music of the universe.

For many of us, that Spirit is very relevant to our daily living. We recognize the Spirit’s activity all around us: in those little nudges to call someone or pray for someone, in the peace that surrounds us before we undergo surgery, in the inspiration that comes when we’re teaching or praying, in the board meeting where truth is spoken and consensus is reached. Many of us know the Spirit as our sustainer, our inspiration, our daily guide and yes the mischief maker.

We see daily evidence of God our Creator. We strive to follow the concrete example of Jesus the Christ. We look for signs of the Holy Spirit around us. Individually, the three persons of the Trinity make sense to us. But what does it mean for the three to be one and the one to be three? Abba God, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. One in three in one. Ice and liquid and steam. Three leaves of a shamrock. What power can this mysterious concept have for us?

Whether you relate most to God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, or the Holy Spirit
 Sustainer, the mystery of the Trinity has something to teach us. There is something beautiful and powerful about a God in three persons. There is something God can reveal to us when we ponder the mystery of the Trinity.

The triune God of our faith is a mystery, revealed to us only partially and gradually.  God goes way beyond our human capability of comprehension and understanding and our language.  Yet we are offered an opportunity to reach out, touch, and try to understand how these three, these three in one touch and bless our lives.  Heck, it wasn’t until long after the stories of the creation of all, the passing on of the stories of God active in our world...Long after someone decided to write down the stories then collect them into a book, did we even conceive of this nature of God.

In the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev sometime around 1400 C.E. For those of you who are unfamiliar with icons, they are pictures that are used in prayer. Believers are to gaze at them prayerfully until they become like a window into the heart of God. God can reveal Godself to us as we are praying through the image of an icon. This is the image on the bulletin cover.

This icon takes as its subject the mysterious story where Abraham receives three visitors as he camps by the oak of Mamre. He serves them a meal. As the conversation progresses he seems to be talking straight to God, as if these 'angels' were in some way a metaphor for the three persons of the Trinity. In Rublev's representation of the scene, the three gold-winged figures are seated around a white table on which a golden, chalice-like bowl contains a roasted lamb. In the background of the picture, a house can be seen at the top left and a tree in the center. Less distinctly, a rocky hill lies in the upper right corner. The composition is a great circle around the table, focusing the attention on the chalice-bowl at the center, which reminds the viewer inescapably of an altar at Communion.

On one level this picture shows three angels seated under Abraham's tree, but on another it is a visual expression of what the Trinity means, what is the nature of God, and how we approach God. Reading the picture from left to right, we see Abba creator, Son the redeemer, Holy Spirit the Sustainer.

Rublev gives each person of the Trinity different clothing. On the right, the Holy Spirit has a garment of the clear blue of the sky, wrapped over with a robe of a fragile green. So the Spirit of creation moves in sky and water, breathes in heaven and earth. All living things owe their freshness to her touch. The Son has the deepest colors; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him, and over his right shoulder (the Government shall be upon his shoulder) there is a band of gold shot through the earthly garment, as his divinity suffuses and transfigures his earthly being. The Creator seems to wear all the colors in a kind of fabric that changes with the light, that seems transparent, that cannot be described or confined in words. And this is how it should be. No one has seen Abba, but the vision of Abba fills the universe.
The Creator looks forward, raising a hand in blessing to the Son. this gesture expresses a movement towards the Son. The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. In this simple array we see the movement of life towards us; we are the fourth being at this table, the life flows clockwise around the circle. And we complete the circle The Spirit touches us, even though we do not know who it is that is touching us. The spirit leads us and moves us in ways we are unaware until we look back.  In moments of stillness and clarity, then can we see where the spirit, the hand of God has touched and moved us.

It is interesting to note that each of these great winged creatures have staffs for a journey.  They each have a staff because we are on a journey and instead of flying on ahead, avoiding all trials and trouble they walk with us, beside us on our individual journeys in this life here and now. [1]

In many traditions, this concept of the trinity is a doctrine; a belief written in stone that must be believed, three separate beings and yet one God.  I perceive them more as aspects of God.  Different parts of one personality or being.  The three are in communion with each other as we are one community and yet each one of us is a unique expression of this community.  The Trinity is a community of Love.

As we think about the community of love that has been within God since the beginning of time, the trinity. Let us understand that there is an invitation for us to be part of that community. Just as Andrei’s icon shows us a place at the table so we can see it for real, as the invitation stands open to all in this community and at the Communion table, God’s table.  As we see real, concrete examples of how God has created us, redeemed us, and sustained us, let us respond with love and gratitude. Let us add our love to the Trinity’s communion of love.

Let us allow God to be revealed in our community. The concept of the Trinity teaches us that no one ever stands alone. As soon as we accept God’s love and reflect that love back out to the world, we are members of a community. We cannot be a community without being connected to one another. If we are to embrace the triune aspects of God the creator, Christ the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit the sustainer then we are called to embrace each other as community and reach out beyond these walls to those who challenge us, need us, who are hungry for a message of love. The love we find in the Trinity, in the communion, we find with one another, is not just for our own sakes. It’s for the sake of the world. It’s meant to be shared. [2]
The world needs love. The world needs grace. The world needs community. May the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—help us to share the message of the Trinity with all creation. [3]

[1] sacred heart pullman, Explanation of Andrei Rublev's Icon of the trinity, (accessed May 14, 2013).
[2] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 (Nashville: Abingdon press, 2012).

[3] David N. Mosser, Abingdon Preaching Annual 2008 (nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

God is up to Something

Todays Psalm for Pentecost Sunday reads in part…

How many are your works, Lord!
    In wisdom you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,
    teeming with creatures beyond number—
    living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27 All creatures look to you
    to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
    they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
    they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.

Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.’ These words demonstrate the ancient Jewish view of the Spirit of God annually renewing the face of the natural world with flowering plant life and also a widespread belief in the activity of a divine Spirit in many religious cultures around the world, both ancient and modern. All life is thereby seen in them as a divine gift of God to a divine creation.

The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ was ‘ruah’, whose original meaning was ‘breath’ as well as ‘wind’ a word meant to sound exactly or close to what it is Ruahhh... “John tells us how Jesus likened the Spirit to the wind that ‘blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going’  (John 3:8), and this explains why Luke described the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as ‘like the rush of a mighty wind’ (Acts 2:2). In other words, the Spirit is identified as the breath of God, both breathing life into all living things, and withdrawn to let them die.

John’s Gospel describes the death of Jesus on the cross with an unusual Greek expression: he ‘handed over his spirit.’ These words imply that the Spirit given him in baptism is being passed on in his death. He reveals to whom the Spirit is being passed in Christ’s resurrection appearance to the gathered apostles when he lays his hands on them.”[1]

Today’s Gospel foretells of the Holy Spirit coming, the advocate.  We all know the Pentecost story almost by heart. I will return to that story in a bit but for now 

“Pentecost is the day that the gift of the Spirit brings the new life of Christ to the apostles and the scattered people of God. Both evangelists (John and Luke) were writing about events that they themselves did not witness, and so they tended to link their narratives with those Jewish traditions which could best illuminate their significance most vividly, and the experiences that the apostolic Church initially identified naturally as ‘the Spirit of Christ’.”[2]

These understandings of what Pentecost meant or how the Holy spirit came did not happen immediately. There was confusion surrounding the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  There were stories that were simple and stories that were huge exaggerations. There were arguments, misunderstandings and even stories from people who heard from someone who heard from someone who had a second cousin that was there.

I am not making light of our scriptures.  I am simply stating a fact.  There were no accurate recorded histories at the time of Jesus.  There were many writings and different accounts of Jesus life and teachings. Alice Camille write;

“With all the writings floating around the ancient world, who decided which of them rated as sacred enough to be scripture?

This question is technically one of canonicity. “Canon” means norm or standard. The term was first applied by St. Athanasius to a collection of Jewish and Christian writings around the year 350. A fourth-century bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, Athanasius was a powerhouse.

He would later be named “Doctor of Orthodoxy” for his strong defense against heresies of his time. Athanasius attended the all-important Council of Nicaea, from which we get our Nicene Creed. He was a zealous advocate for the divinity of Jesus in an age before the nature of Jesus was uniformly accepted. For all of these reasons, Athanasius was invested in settling the canon of scripture: which books might be counted as the “Word of God”—and which, at best, were just good words.”[3]
It wasn’t until the council of Trent in 1545 that the old testament was finally decided upon. Meaning which books would be allowed in…of course this was in the midst of the reformation and so some books the Catholics choose the reformation tossed out. “Today’s bible owes a debt to these many debates.”[4]

This is why it is said we take the bible seriously but not literally. It is the inspired and inspiring word of God. That word still speaks to us today and allows us to grow and move just as the spirit leads us as we work to bring Gods kindom here on earth.

Fr Robert styles, SJ states;

“We therefore need to understand why Luke saw the celebration of Pentecost as a particularly significant feast for the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Pentecost began as a harvest thanksgiving celebration with the creative Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth. It was the traditional date of the original covenant of the Law of Moses given on Mount Sinai. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD70 this latter aspect of Pentecost was emphasized more exclusively in the synagogues of the Jewish diaspora. It is during this period that Luke wrote his Gospel.”[5]

I find it interesting and calling to my heart today that Pentecost was a celebration of the harvest a celebration of the bounty of the earth and now it is a celebration of the spirit. The renewing spirit of God.  That spirit renews us, renews the church and renews the Earth herself.

   this is the day on which the first believers came alive in their faith,
       the day when the Rock upon which Christ planted his church began to
       support and uphold an incredible new life -
a life that has existed since the world began,
   but which was poured out in a special fashion 
       and took on flesh in you and me 
much as it took life in Jesus, the son of Mary, the son of God 
so long ago.

Pentecost is an event that the world has long been promised and which the people of God have long awaited. With that let me say…

Dzien dobry (Polish), Buenos dias (Spanish), Nyado delek (Tibetan), Endermen aderkh (armarhic), Bari Luys (Armenian), Kali Mera (Greek), Shubh Prabhat (Hindi).  I have just announced good morning or good day in several languages those languages were… (see above).

We are in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time it is 50 days after Good Friday.  Actually, the name of the Holiday is a Jewish reference. Pentecost is actually a Jewish Holiday a festival of early harvest that occurred fifty days after Passover also known as the festival of Weeks, Shavuot, or the day to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments.

It is interesting to note that Christ said in Mathew “Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” So, Jesus was then, the accomplishment of the law and the prophets and the beginning of something new.

Then Later in John Jesus foretells of the coming of the spirit…"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Creator, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Creator, she will testify about me.”

Today is Pentecost and for us that's the birthday of the church,
when the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God came into the
church and gave the church life. John does not tell of the event but it is in Luke that we hear the story.

So here it is Pentecost in Jerusalem and the disciples are kind of hiding out.  They are frightened that the mobs that came for Jesus may come for them.  They come and go very clandestinely. This day they are all gathered, again I must emphasize that all means men women and children, slaves and free. It is reported that suddenly there was a roar as of a rushing wind.  It was so loud that the people who had gathered in Jerusalem heard the noise and gathered around the house.  Imagine hearing the sound of a rushing wind and yet there is none…no wind…no movement just the sound, wouldn’t you want to see what was happening.

So gathered outside are Jewish people from Jerusalem and those who traveled back for the holiday.  There are Greeks and Romans, there were people from what we know as Libya and Egypt, there were probably traders from the Far East as well as Macedonia, People from the entire known world.  Some had come for Passover and just stayed till Pentecost others were there just for that festival.  There were many people and many languages.

So as the crowd is gathering outside those in the house are hearing the same thing, it sounds like a mighty wind is coming and it is all around them.  They are wondering if they have been found, if they are under attack of some kind, or if the world as they know it is ending.  Suddenly a fire appears in the room divides and alights on each one’s head.  They are filled with the spirit and they go out to greet the crowd.

Pentecost is the reversal of what occurred at the Tower of Babel when, because of our sinfulness, because we chose to separate ourselves from God, we became unable to understand one another and then a mighty wind came up and blew us to the four corners of the world.

Do you hear the similar elements here, there was a sound of rushing wind but it did not disperse the people but caused them to be gathered and at Pentecost each heard the disciples proclaim the news in their own tongue. I have always found this one of the most significant passages.  It is not that the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to speak languages of all the known nations at the time but that the spirit made it possible for all to hear and understand the message of God.  The message that there is new life and a new way to be in the world, away free from guilt and persecution. For as it was proclaimed at the days of creation, it is being proclaimed again, God saw all things under the heavens and proclaimed them all GOOD!

All creation was Good, all creation saw and witnessed Gods spirit, God’s breath, the very Ruah of creation was alive and well in the world.  Perhaps this is why Pentecost came on the festival of harvest.  Gods bounty of the Earth is being celebrated and at the same time God’s bounty of the spirit is gifted.

The nature of this spirit empowers us to live first of all pointing to Christ. The kind of life God intends for us to live points not to us, not to our accomplishments, but to the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works with our spirit so that we might experience the righteousness of Christ in our lives.

It is this Spirit that comes into our lives, into the church to allow us to spread God’s message of love to all people and to all of God’s creation. It is this Spirit which makes the church, the Body of Christ, the most unique organization on the face of the earth. Because the spirit inspires us and moves us to stand in the face of oppression. 

It calls us to care for the sick, the poor the marginalized and the earth itself.  It calls to mind the early bounty celebration and asks how do we envision our bounty through the gift of the spirit?  How are we being moved?  How are we using our bounty, our gift of the spirit, to renew Gods’ earth and make earth just as it is in heaven?

The church is the most amazing organization in the world! And my friends you and I are part of it, not because we did anything, but because the Holy Spirit has led us, because the Gospel and the Life of Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit gathers together, enlightens and makes holy all people on earth and keeps Holy the earth herself.

Rick Kirchoff, Germantown United Methodist Church said this in 2001 at the Opening remarks to the Memphis Annual Conference of the Methodist churches.

When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:

barriers are broken,
communities are formed,
opposites are reconciled,
unity is established,
disease is cured,
addiction is broken,
cities are renewed,
races are reconciled,
hope is established,
people are blessed,
and church happens.

Today the Spirit of God is present
and we’re gonna‚ have church.

So be ready, get ready...God is up to something... discouraged folks cheer up,
dishonest folks ’fess up,
sour folks sweeten up,
closed folk, open up,
gossipers shut up,
conflicted folks make up,
sleeping folks wake up,
lukewarm folk, fire up,
dry bones shake up,
and pew potatoes stand up!
But most of all, Christ the Savior of all the world is lifted Glory 

Yes, welcome to the Pentecost event, 2019, and Happy Birthday to the church!


Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Children's Sermon

such a special sermon

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Troubling Peace. John 14:23-29

“This passage is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the night before his death, a discourse punctuated by the anxious questions of his disciples about his impending departure.
First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22) ask for clarification about what Jesus is telling them.
Jesus has promised not to leave his disciples orphaned (John 14:18). He has promised to send another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to be with them forever (14:16) and continue the work that he has begun. The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth and thus cannot receive him (4:17), just as it has not received Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples that though the world will no longer see him, they themselves will see him (John 4:19) because he will reveal himself to them (4:21). Then Judas (not Iscariot) asks: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” (4:22) Our passage begins with Jesus’ response to this question. Perhaps Judas expects that Jesus will give them some kind of secret knowledge, but that is not what Jesus means.”[1]
Phillip asked “Lord Show us the father, and we will be satisfied.” Of course, as far as these questions go Jesus is never going to give us a satisfactory answer.  Jesus is never going to spell it out in plain English.  If all Jesus said and did were completely understood, perfectly understood from the beginning we would not be where we are today.
Heck we, Bob and I would not have over 30 shelves full of books. If only Christ had spoken and answered questions plain and simple. But, in all honesty, Jesus, God and the Holy spirit are beyond human comprehension.  We have to grow and evolve and understand and work to help others grow and evolve and understand and, in this process, there are moments of enlightenment.
Some of those moments are our own when we hear a word or reflect on an action of Jesus’ life and say to ourselves oh, I get it, or our heart leaps to an emotional understanding, or we are inspired by the word to take on a mission or a different way of being in this world.
“’Lord show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ We do not know, of course, whether Philip whispered these words, hoping no one else would hear, or shouted them above the noise of many conversations. We do not know if he spoke in a tear-filled voice or blurted out his request.  We do not even know if he realized the importance of the question he asked. What we do know is that he spoke for all of us: to know God is a fundamental human longing, se deeply embedded, in fact, as to rise seldom to our lips. Why?
Perhaps its pride. One has to swallow pride of self-sufficiency in order to form the words of this request.  A man paces back and forth outside a church door before entering. This is strange territory. Inside a friendly face wearing an usher badge hands the visitor a worship bulletin and with a smile says, “Welcome; we know you are here in search of God.’ ‘Well, no, I just had an hour to kill and thought I would drop in.’”[2]
God forbid that we should admit we are seekers, perhaps, at times it is just hard to wrap our hearts and minds around. We all have the big questions and yet many of us feel the big questions are too much to dare.
Of course, once we get a glimpse of the truth it leads to more questions…Peter asked “Lord where are you going?”  then after Jesus answered “Why can’t I go with you now?”
Finally, Judas (not Iscariot) asks; “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
How do we see God and Jesus revealed to us as disciples and yet not everyone else?  How is it that what may seem obvious to the seeker is not seen by your neighbor? “Earlier Jesus had spoken to his disciples of the “many dwellings” (monai pollai) in the creators house, where Jesus is going to prepare a place for them (John 14:2). Now Jesus says that they, Jesus and the creator, will come and make their dwelling (monên) with those who love him and keep his word (14:23). You see “eternal life” begins here and now; it is life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ (17:3). Even while Jesus prepares eternal dwellings, he promises that He and God will be with the disciples and, in turn, us as they move through their ministry.
Karyn Wisemen states; “This is a promise that surely made a huge difference to those for whom Jesus’ departure is both immanent and potentially confusing.
Part of that preparation included making sure all knew what was expected his followers. Jesus states that loving him means obeying his teachings (verse 23). As a result of this obedience, “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (verse 23). What an astonishing promise of presence.
However, we live in a world where people are more technologically connected than ever before, but many seem to still be lonely. They are isolated physically and perhaps connected in trans-dimensional modes of connection. But many are not pulled out of the isolation by electronic means. Feeling alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience. And this is what the disciples are likely to fear most: isolation from their teacher and friend. All that they have done has been about being part of Jesus’ life and journey. But Jesus’ promises mean that they will not be alone.”[3]
So, I wonder how do we process that promise in light of our technological connections?  How do we step away from our internalized processes that we have applied to electronic communication that results in isolation, fear, mistrust and misunderstanding?
I mean in today’s world if someone was to tell me I am dying but I will always be with you. I would say yes, I know.  I have your pictures, Facebook page, blog, videos, emails and all the things that you have put out there electronically, yes you will live forever.  We are immortal. Immortal with assumed emotions and false concept of reality.
Have you ever read and email and thought why are they so upset? Or why did they say that in that tone of voice?  We love our forms of artificial communication and yet truly we do not know what a person is saying or how they meant to say it without a tone an actual tone of voice or a face to read. It is just not a true connection.
Or have you ever been in a crowd and still feel alone even when with family or friends.  I think maybe part of that is our deeper longing, seeking, for something more. That something more is promised in this gospel.
Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his departure. This is hard.  They have been with Jesus day in and day out for three years. Three years of meals, traveling from hill to valley, from land to lake.  Three years of miracles and wisdom and, most of all, sacred companionship.
Into this reality of Jesus’ departure.  That sounds nice doesn’t departure or leaving…I am not sure the disciples fully understand what all this means yet. But in the midst of this leaving comes the Spirit, the Advocate, the one who will accompany the disciples.  The spirit is “sent by God in Jesus’ name to be present with the followers of Jesus (verse 26). This is the first time we read about this presence as the Holy Spirit. The Advocate is a presence the disciples will need in order to love as they are called to love. It will, as Jesus promises, be as if he is still with them. Additionally, the Spirit will serve as their teacher in Jesus’ absence (verse 26). Jesus as teacher has been a profound presence in the Gospel message and continuing this teaching -- his teaching -- will be the Advocate’s role.”[4]
This explanation makes no sense does it? Does this make sense to you?  Of course, it does, it is part of our faith filled understanding of just what happened then.  But in a context of never hearing of the Holy spirit before, never hearing mention of the advocate before this…well let me just say Jesus is not a good chaplain. He is offering a very spiritual language to try to comfort those around him who are confused and perhaps even frightened as they are beginning…just beginning to get a glimpse as to how things are about to go. If they do not have that glimmer of understanding these are just words that are making no sense.
The disciples may be getting a little more confused and scared at this point.  I am in the father and my father is in me and if you believe, we will be with you, we will love you, make our home with you and if you do not love my words, well they are not my words, but they are the fathers words who sent me to you and we are sending you an advocate, a holy spirit to be your teacher and companion and we will be there too through the spirit….
But then in the midst of confusion…in the middle of their need, Jesus shifts. Jesus changes the whole tone of the message. He stops and turns to them and says (deep Breath)
Peace I leave with you…
Yes, that is what they need…yes that is what we need…In the middle of hustle and bustle…in the center of fear and confusion…in the middle of our daily bread…Peace I leave with you my peace I give you…
That’s what I want, that’s what the disciples needed in that moment more than anything…
I return to commentator Karyn Wisemann
“One of the profound moments in this passage comes in verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is a commodity we sorely need in our world and is absent for far too many. But into this discourse about absence, Jesus reassures the disciples, who were rightly feeling fear about his departure, that they will not be left alone and bestows peace on them.
However, he does more than gently wish them peaceful lives -- he gives them peace (verse 27). This is not a wish. This is a gift. It is a gift of profound importance at this moment in the journey of Jesus and the disciples. He must have known the turmoil they would face when he was gone and he does all he can to prepare them for the next part of the journey. Peace is an important element of John’s gospel (along with love…). And like love, peace is a mark of true discipleship that is required of the disciples -- then and now.”[5]
“A clock ticks. Day breaks and evening falls.  Thursday and Friday are followed by Saturday and Sunday. Spring gives way to summer; autumn heralds the approach of winter. February ends and March begins. Between the last day of December and the first day of January, we turn a page of the calendar and discover ourselves in a new year. Academic terms come and go; graduating classes move on. In the life of the Church, Easter follows Good Friday. All these are persistent patterns with a steady and expected rhythm. They do not surprise us but provide a basic beat by which we can measure the passing of time, milestones that mark our journey.”[6]
Or as the day time soap used to say as sands in the hour glass so are the days of our lives.  These all sound so mundane and steady and simple and yet we know we have frustrations, fears, tragedies, joys, surprises.  It really does not take much to disrupt our rhythms and in those times of disruption is when we seek and need the Peace of Christ. Well peace as we imagine it.  But Christ peace can be and is something more…
This is not a passive peace. It is an active working toward peace in multiple situations. Christs peace is one that comforts and troubles all at once. This Spirit and peace will propel the disciples and later the church into active discipleship and mission. Through this peace what should have been a mundane life becomes extraordinary. It is in this peace that Peter is able to understand and see the need to welcome the outsider.  It is this peace that will knock Saul off a horse.  It is this peace that runs like wildfire through Israel and unto Rome. It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus’ name, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness (verse 26).
Judas simply asked “Lord how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not the world?”

“From this question, it sounds as if Judas is expecting Jesus to reveal secrets, to give his followers knowledge hidden from the world at large. The answer Jesus gives, however, goes in another direction. Jesus is not interested in hiding knowledge from anyone. While the world will not see him any longer, it will see his followers. The words that follow are for his followers, yet it is probably not a coincidence that as his followers keep loving him, the world will see those followers keeping his word. To keep the word of Jesus means to keep his commandments (cf. John 14:15, 21). It is to wash one another's feet, to love one another (John 13:24). As the disciples keep the word of Jesus, they will be a community characterized by mutual regard, love and service.”[7]

This is the Peace of Christ drawing the disciples forward in their ministries accompanied by the holy spirit.  The Holy Spirit and Christ’s peace can and do calm the spirit while stirring it. The peace of Christ challenges us to grow, the spirit leads us to where we need to be to experience that growth, to share Christ love always in bigger and bolder ways.

Christ peace comes as reassurance and assurance even though we may be taking bold and scary leaps.  We may be anxious about new things and different ways and yet through it all if we pray and listen, we will experience Christ’s peace and the spirit will trouble us more to move on to bigger and better yet!

It is “In this context, we can rightly imagine that peace is not something the disciples are feeling. They have travelled the highways and byways with Jesus as he healed, taught, and changed the world. Now in his impending absence he leaves them what they need to continue this work.”[8]
Part of the amazing reassurance comes in verse 28: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the creator, for the Creator is greater than I.” Jesus boldly proclaims that he is not just going away from them -- he is going to the Creator. And those who know him, who have walked the roads and have been on this journey with him, know that this is what he was meant to do. They didn’t quite understand it yet but the spirit and Christ’s peace will enable them to grow into it.
Into this moment we are called to be the word peace, we are called to be Christ’s presence. After this discourse, Jesus intended for the disciples to feel his peace and presence always -- through the Spirit, in the continued teaching to come, and in the connectedness of the community of believers. So, we too are called to seek that connectedness, to reach out and be the present, peace filled, community of believers to the world around us.
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. amen


[2]Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

[6]Vogel, Linda Jane., and Dwight Vogel. Syncopated Grace: Times and Seasons with God. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2002.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

What Is this "New Commandment?"

I do love a good story. I love stories because they set our imagination free.  I love stories because they allow us to conceive the impossible. Better yet, I love stories because they make the impossible, possible.

For centuries people have dreamt dreams and wrote of fantastical journeys.  They write of the impossible.  They write of flying cars, time travel and traveling at the speed of light. Michael Riley writes; ““Science fiction is sometimes talked about as the literature of ideas. How better to illustrate that than William Gibson using the term ‘cyberspace’ in his debut novel, Neuromancer. As Gibson described how his protagonist, Case, ‘jacked into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix,’ a new way of looking at and experiencing information was visualized. In a year that shared its date with the title of George Orwell’s 1984, a science fiction author writing on a manual typewriter allowed us to name and visualize what would later become the internet.”[1]

The Gospel can be the same and I would even venture to say that it is for us. One of our great preachers and teachers, Fred Craddock, shares stories of the everyday that seem to illustrate gospel living.

“There is a little community in southwest Oklahoma, near the Washita creek, where the Native American Black Kettle and most of the women and children of his tribe were massacred by General Custer as he and his troops swept down in the early morning hours. The community is named for the general, Custer City. (Fred and his wife) Nettie and I ministered there about three years; the population was 450 on a good day. There were four churches: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church and a Christian church. Each had its share of the population on Wednesday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening. Each had a small collection of young people, and the attendance rose and fell according to the weather and whether it was time to harvest the wheat and all of that.

But the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the pickup trucks were parked, and all the men were inside discussing the weather, and the cattle, and the wheat bugs, and the hail, and the wind, and are we going to have a crop. All their wives and sons and daughters were in one of those four churches. The churches had good attendance and poor attendance, but the café had consistently good attendance, better attendance than some of the churches. They were always there. Once in a while they would lose a member there at the café, because their wives finally got to them or their kids did, and you’d see them go sheepishly, off to one of the churches. But the men at the café still felt strong. “We are still the best, the biggest, and strongest group intown.” And so, they went on Wednesdays and Sundays and every other day, discussing weather and crops-not bad men, but good men, family men, hardworking men.

The patron saint of the group that met at the café was named Frank. Frank was seventy-seven when (Fred)I met him. He was a good, strong man; a pioneer, a rancher and farmer, and a prospering cattle man too. He was born in a sod house; he had his credentials, and all men there at the café’ considered him a saint. “Ha! Ol’ Frank will never go to church.” (Fred)I met Frank on the street one time. He knew I was a preacher (Fred explains), but it has never been my custom to accost people in the name of Jesus, so I just was shaking his hands and visiting with him, but he took the offensive. He was not offensive, but he took the offensive. He said, “I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business. Far as I’m concerned, everything else is fluff.” You see what he told me? “Leave me alone, I’m not a prospect.” I didn’t bother Frank. That’s why I, the entire church, and the whole town were surprised, and the men at the café church were absolutely bumfuzzled when old frank, seventy-seven years old, presented himself before me one Sunday morning for baptism. I baptized Frank. Some of the talk in the community was, “Frank must be sick. Guess he’s scared to meet his maker. They say he’s got heart trouble. Going up there and being baptized, well, I never thought ol’ Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared…” All kind of stories.

But this is the way frank told it to me. We were talking the next day after his baptism, and I said, “Uh, Frank, you remember that little saying you used to give me so much: ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?”

He said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.”
I said, “You still say that?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I said, “Then what’s the difference?”
He said, “I didn’t know then what my business was.” He discovered what his business was-to serve human need. And so I baptized Frank. I raised my hand and I said, “In the presence of those who gather, upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ, and in obedience to his command I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son the Holy Spirit. Amen.”[2]

Now that is a fairly long story but it is important why? Because it is today’s gospel message.
This message comes near Jesus death and the disciples are faced with the impossibility of following Jesus at his departure. “I give you a new commandment That you love one another” Not just the way you have cared for each other but the way that I have loved you.

This, in John is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse.  You see John’s gospel is very different from the other three. John Crossan and Marcus Borg remind us that “First the dating is different. In the other Gospels the meal Jesus shares with his friends is the Passover meal, in John it is not. “Rather it is the Thursday before Passover, and the lambs to be eaten at the Passover meal on Friday evening will be killed on Friday afternoon, at about the same hour that Jesus dies on the cross.  The reason for John’s dating seems to be theological: Jesus is the new Passover lamb. Second, the amount of space devoted to Jesus’s last gathering with his disciples is different: in Mark nine verses (14:17-25) in John, five chapters…”[3]

It is also interesting to note that the other three gospels have the words we use at the Eucharist or “the words of institution, this is my Body, this is my blood..” in John we do not see this, “instead John has the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:3-11), a ritual often incorporated into Christian observance of Holy Thursday. Finally, we note that calling this day “Maundy Thursday” is based on Johns story: “Maundy” derives for the Latin word for “mandate” – the new commandment – that Jesus gives his followers in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”[4]

There is a saying that Jesus said I love you this much and then he stretched out his arms and died on the cross. I would add that he loved us so much that he stretched out his arms, died on the cross and then broke the binds of death forever!
That is done…there is nothing more we can do.  We could not love anyone that much. But we can love each other as Christ loved and taught.

In the reading for acts today Peter had a dream that allowed Gentiles into the Jesus movement. “the Holy Spirit, the great boundary crosser, the irresistible force of God’s transformative presence, reaching out and baptizing those outside. And Peter draws the conclusion: “God has given…to Gentiles (the unclean ones) the repentance that leads to life.” These gentiles are invited into God’s new life. God makes a way out of no way, when they had no way to come into new life, God makes possible what I had crossed off as impossible….”[5]

This is what Jesus does. Jesus stands against Empire and tradition.  He stands in the face of categories that separates us and challenges us to Love one another.   And That love is so great it should be troubling us and challenging us every day…

We thought that when the turmoil of the 60’s was over that the race issues had been resolved and yet today African American men and people of color are incarcerated 5 times more than white Americans. Today the united states make up about 5% of the world’s population and has 21%of the world’s prisoners.[6]

Is this how we love one another?

We believed that women’s rights and gender issues were settled and yet there is an attack on women’s health and still large disparity in pay rates.

Is this how we love one another?

There are still places in our own congregations when it comes to the LGBTQ community that believe hate the sinner, love the sin, is ok language and or good theology. 

Is this how we love one another?

The way we are caring for people who are fleeing hunger, hate, war and poverty at our borders is a sin! Literally it defines sin on so many levels! 

Is this how we love one another?

How do we Love one another…so many of those issues seem so far and beyond our influence or capabilities?

We can clothe each other, we can feed each other, we can pray for each other, we can seek out the marginalized, the poor, the hungry and feed and care and do our best.  We may never feed 5000…then again how many meals have we served? We may never raise the dead but, how many times has this congregation been the source for comfort and care?

Do we do enough, no. Sorry we don’t because, well we can never do enough.  Can we do more?  I don’t know that is for you to decide.  Can we dream into new ministries?  Can we dream our current ministries bigger?  Broader? 

We know our business is to serve human need.  What are the needs of our community and the people around us?  Have they shifted and moved? I am asking these questions because I do not know.  If you know tell me.  If there is a better way or a different way let’s pray into it and see where God maybe taking us.  Let us Somehow shift ourselves more boldly into this new commandment.  Let us walk with each other and pray with each other for the Lord to reveal to us where we are called to serve.

Remember this is about mission and service and growing our ministries.  This is about being the face of Christ to the community around us. Now here is a scary thought…and money is not an issue.  There is no mission no dream that is too big.  If we cannot do it alone let us seek out partners in the community, seek out grants from anywhere and everywhere.  Seek out our family in the churches to our north south east and west and partner to make bigger brighter things happen.

Now I have some high and mighty, fancy, even huge ideas.   But those are mine.  And I will ask the questions but what are yours?  Where do your passions lay?  Where is the spirit troubling the waters in your heart?

I have heard if I had a million dollars, I would like to see this ministry happen.  There is a spiritual practice that says let’s step boldly and blindly in faith and God will provide and if we fail…Dust ourselves off and try again. I give you a new commandment love one another as I have loved you.”  Let us get excited and revved up in Christ like love and see where it may take us.

The commandment to love each other is new because Jesus is the way and the power of that love. And Jesus can be those for us, all we need to do is pray, look and listen for the movement of Spirit.

I pray that we will move together into the new commandment. There are glories of Christ to be seen here, glories that we have never seen before. And there is love to be lived here that some have never tasted before.  This is our time to rediscover what it means to be the hands, feet, eyes and body of Christ to the world around us. Amen.

[2]Craddock, Fred B., and Mike Graves. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Pg. 67-69

[3]Borg, Marcus J., and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week: What Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem: Marcus J Borg and John Dominic Crossan. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 2006. Pg. 110

[5]Brueggemann, Walter, and Thomas A. Long. Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Pg.140