Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 28 Ascension Sunday John 17:1-11

Ascension Sunday…. today we celebrate the beginning of Christs work in the world.  Yes, I said the beginning. For the real work of Christs salvation begins with those left behind. Forty days after Jesus’ death or on Easter Sunday he ascends to heaven.

There is arguably no festival or Sunday of the Christian year that is more dependent on mythic imagery than the Ascension of the Lord. The superb narrator Luke is the only New Testament writer to literalize an account of the ascension. Although in the final chapter of his Gospel Luke describes the ascension as occurring on Easter Day, in the Acts of the Apostles he introduces the imagery of 40 days to intensify his story line.

In the scriptures, it is for 40 days that rain falls on Noah’s ark, that the spies scout out Canaan, that Goliath taunts the Israelite army, that Ezekiel lies on his right side, that Nineveh is threatened with destruction, and that Jesus is tempted after his baptism. At age 40 Moses murders an Egyptian; 40 years later he meets with God on Mount Sinai; and 40 years later he dies. For 40 years Israel wanders in the desert and for 40 years suffers under the Philistines. Saul, David, and Solomon each reign 40 years, and every woman is secluded for 40 days after the birth of a son.[1]

This may be the reason that Christians have adopted the forty day way of being.  You see it is longer than a lunar month.  It breaks the rhythm of what would be considered a normal pattern. Gail Ramsay explains it this way;

Perhaps the origin of this metaphor lies in the fact that 40 exceeds the lunar pacing of 30 days. Forty is a long time. But 40 is also mythically alive, a time pregnant with a religious future. Forty is how long we must wait for God’s intent to be realized. Forty is the metaphysical delay which all humans experience, the legendary period of hope, the duration of either joy or sorrow that opens to emotions unknown. It often takes 40 to open the door.[2]

These forty days allows the Christian community to process what Jesus’ life has meant.  It allows us to ponder the sorrow and the pain he endured and triumphed over.  It gives us time to process the messages and lessons he taught. This may be one reason why the Christian church has adopted these forty days after the resurrection.

But what purpose does the ascension serve?  Why did Christ walk this earth as God incarnate after the resurrection? Why didn’t he just leave?  This was the time Christ offered companionship.  Christ offered further lessons.  Christ helped to clarify all he taught and made a path for more, for a more human connection.  Christ made a way for us here today. John Martens puts it this way;

The ascension is a proof of the significance of the incarnation and, as a result, the significance of each of our lives. Certainly, the ascension directs us to the uniqueness of Jesus, as God and man, and specifically to Jesus’ enthronement as Lord, but it also points to the uniqueness and value of each human life. Because Jesus’ human being does not cease with his resurrection or his ascension, Jesus’ incarnation, the particularity of his human personhood, is eternal. But that means our personhood, our individuality, will not just melt away into nothingness with death either. We are intended for eternity as unique instances of human beings.

Jesus’ ascension is the hinge between Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, for Acts is not a new story but the continuation of the story of Jesus’ mission and ministry through the work of his apostles and disciples. As we are told in Acts, Jesus, while physically absent for a period of time, “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It is not so much the cosmological description of the manner of Jesus’ “coming” and “going” that ought to interest us but the ongoing reality of Jesus’ eternal existence.[3]

Before the ascension, Jesus gives lessons and opens minds for understanding and offers comfort. He gives promise of the holy spirit to come.  Jesus does not ascend until “after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles,” this becomes an overlap, if you will.  Before sending the holy spirit to the disciples Jesus offers instruction through the holy spirit.  This is in preparation for the beginning of the church.

In the last verses of the ascension scene in Acts, two figures from Lk 24:4, the two men who greeted the women at the tomb, reappear. They ask the apostles, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” The Letter to the Hebrews makes the same point, saying that Jesus, who came first for the sins of humanity, “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The apostles are told, in a sense, to get on with their work because while Jesus will return at some point, “those who are eagerly waiting for him” when he returns depends on the church. The apostles have a job to do.[4]

This is the moment when grief turns to joy “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great Joy and they were continually in the temple worshipping God.”  Filled with Joy the Church is beginning, filled with Joy they were in the temples.  Everyone in town knew who they were, and they were no longer hiding.  They were present as joyful witnesses to the truth. This, even before Pentecost, is the birthing of the church. A Joy filled ministry!  I was reading this the other day and thought I would share it with you.

When I was about 13 or 14, my father asked me to ride along with him as he cultivated a field of corn.  It was a tricky job.  The sharp blades of the cultivator had to pass between the rows of corn.  If we had veered a few inches to the left or to the right, we would have plowed out four rows of tender young corn plants.  The John Deere Model 70 did not have power steering, so holding the tractor and cultivator in a straight path was not always easy.

After a few rounds down the 20-acre field, my father asked me if I would like to try driving.  Reluctantly, I sat down behind the steering wheel, popped the clutch, and took off down the field.  Steering was harder than it looked.  Forty feet of corn, in a four-row swath, were plowed out before I had driven five minutes.  My father gently gave me a few suggestions as I went awkwardly—and destructively—down the field and back.  After a few more rounds, my father asked me to stop the tractor.  I thought he had endured all the pain he could.  The carnage in the corn field was overwhelming.  He would tell me to stop.  I obviously was not controlling the tractor and cultivator.

Instead, my father dropped to the ground and said he had some chores to do in the barn.  I was to finish the field and then come in for lunch.  All morning long, in my father’s absence, I plied my way back and forth across the corn field.  Huge sections of corn were torn out, roots exposed to the drying sun, and stalks prematurely sliced down.  But by noon I learned to handle the tractor and the cultivator.

My father’s absence was a sign to me that he trusted himself and what he taught me.  It also signaled that he trusted me.  His absence was empowering rather than disabling.  It authorized me to trust myself and trust what he had taught me.  I would never have learned to cultivate corn had I worked anxiously under his critical eye, hanging on his every gesture and comment.[5]

It is through the physical absence of Christ that the apostles become assured of their own experience.  It is through Christ’s leaving that they begin to learn to depend on what they have witnessed and what they have learned.  It is in the final departure that they are filled with joy and confidently return to the temple and offer god prayers and thanksgiving.

This is the moment when the shift occurs, from this moment on you on your own kids.  It is from this moment on that mere humans must try to teach, understand, and lead us to fulfill the kindom of God here on earth.  It is from this moment we start to get it wrong!  It is from this moment some start to get it right.

Christ came to this world to teach us what it means to be fully human and fully alive. God incarnate affirms that we as humans are Good.  We as humans, as creatures of flesh are good.  That we as humans our bodies and lives are good.  This is the message of the united Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey you are welcome here!

So who are you?  Who are we called to welcome? What kind of welcome do we extend?  How are we as a denomination called to be God’s still speaking voice.  How are you as a congregation called to be God’s still speaking voice?  What are some of the opportunities available to us as a congregation working within a denomination setting?

Let me list a few

Faith beyond Bars; WE call for prison and sentencing reform

Deeply connected to the recently renewed dialogue about the criminal justice system, and the pressing need to address the reality of mass incarceration in our country, are issues of justice that are at the core of our faith.

In the lives and faces of those who fall into the criminal justice system, we encounter Christ. Even in the midst of profound brokenness, we are challenged to seek out the image of God in this complex and challenging context. We cannot enter the conversation at arms-length. Because we are followers of Jesus, we are called to be In the lives and faces of those who fall into the criminal justice system, we encounter Christ. Even in the midst of profound present as ambassadors of healing, restoration and justice in jail cells, courtrooms, prison yards and in the lives of the returning citizens and their families.[6]

Building bridges linking our Muslim and Christian Communities

The United Church of Christ national leaders and the Pacific Northwest Conference are inviting the wider church to get involved in building bridges between Christians and Muslims in our local communities around the country. Building on the Conference's Ramadan initiative, 'Honoring Sacred Time,' which posted visible signs of welcome, solidarity and support for Muslim Americans in dozens of churches around Washington state, this is a one-church effort to extend the extravagant welcome of the United Church of Christ to all.[7]

A Wise welcome

Have you ever stood in the doorway to a room filled with people who knew each other, like the lunch room of a new school, or the break room of a new work place, or the party of a new friend? It can feel like being at the boundary between worlds—on one side you are alone and surrounded by a fog of insecurity and on the other side is wholeness and acceptance and, above all, laughter.  In the United Church of Christ we talk about outsiders and our radical welcome but there are people in our congregations whose presence is often met with fear and silence—people with mental health challenges.

A resolution was adopted at General Synod in 2015 that would encourage the creation of a network of churches that are welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged for mental health.  (WISE).  Such WISE congregations would work to break down the profound silence in our churches about mental health.  They would create covenants with each other to advocate for the many people who fall through the various safety nets in our communities.

Finally, I would like to share a project that I started with the United Church of Christ Global Ministries.  This is the solar empowerment project. we are placing solar panels on the roof of a aids hospice in Tijuana.  This is a home for many a person living with AIDS.  Sometimes it is the first place a person who is sick comes ot especially after being duped at the border by ICE, because they do not send people home.
A person sick with AIDS gets dumped at the border to sick or afraid to go home will come to the Tijuana hospice for shelter food and medical help.  They have beds for men woman and children and they even have a special transgender wing.

Global Ministries partner, Las Memorias Hostel provides dignified care to people living with HIV/AIDS.  The population served is very diverse, and Las Memorias works without regard to social status, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, or whether the person is local, from another region in Mexico, or is from another country.  Las Memorias Hostel was founded in 1999 and, in addition to providing direct services to people with HIV/AIDS, they also provide education and prevention. Currently 75 of the 89 beds at Las Memorias are being utilized by HIV-positive individuals.

The 32,284 sq. ft. hostel can cost over $2,000 to keep air conditioned in the summer heat. The installation of solar panels would allow Las Memorias to redirect its modest funds from electricity expenses to be used for the medication and food for the patients they serve. It is estimated that over the next seven years, the project to purchase and install solar panels will allow for $40,000 in savings for Las Memorias, and several million in savings over the life of the solar panels.

Las Memorias hopes to install a total of 56 solar panels at a cost of $725 per panel. Global Ministries invites gifts for this purpose in order for Las Memorias to create a more sustainable facility, better equipped to serve those living with HIV/AIDS.[8]

The Body of Christ is the Church.  The Body of Christ is incarcerated!  The Body of Christ is Migrant!  The Body of Christ suffers from Mental Illness. The Body of Christ has AIDS! The Body of Christ Jesus,” took on human life, became incarnate, exactly for this purpose: to save our unique human lives. And Jesus retains his human uniqueness as the ascended Lord as a model for our future life and in order that each of us in our individuality and personhood can share in eternal life.”[9] And we as the Body of Christ are called to live into that eternal life, to be examples of what it can be like in the kindom of heaven starting here and starting now. By reaching out, seeking ministry and being Church. Amen!

[1] Gail Ramshaw, May 5, Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53, April 14, 2017, accessed May 23, 2017,
[2] Ibid
[3] John W. Martens, Gospel: The ascension and the value of each life, April 21, 2017, accessed May 23, 2017,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Shelli williams, Ascension sunday: Left Behind, May 4, 2017, accessed May 23, 2017,
[6] UCC still speaking voice, Faith Beyond Bars, 2016, accessed May 25, 2017,
[7] our still speaking Voice, Building bridges linking our Muslim and Christian Communities, 2016, accessed May 25, 2017,
[8] Global Ministries, Las Memorias Hostel Solar Empowerment Project, 2016, accessed May 25, 2017,
[9] Martens, Gospel: The Ascension and the Value of Each Life.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reveal Christ to the World around us John 14:15-21

Fred Craddock was Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He was an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from rural Tennessee.  He was what one may call a preacher’s preacher, as a matter of fact, his book Preaching was required when I was in seminary.  I am not sure which he was more famous for his preaching or his stories.

A Fred Craddock story;

MY mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn't go. He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, "I know what the church wants. Church doesn't care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, another pledge. Right? Isn't that the name of it? Another name, another pledge. "That's what he always said. Sometimes we'd have a revival. Pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, "There's one now sic him, get him, get him," and my father would say the same thing. Every time, my mother in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, "The church doesn't care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge!' I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn't say it. He was in the veteran's hospital, and he was down to seventy-three pounds. They'd taken out his throat, and said, "It's too late." They put in a metal tube, and X rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn't speak, couldn't eat. I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church. He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story. He wrote: "In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story!' I said, "What is your story, Daddy?" And he wrote, "I was wrong.[1]

“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ (John 14:23) If God and Christ have made their home with us (recall 1:14), how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God?[2] The spirit, the Paraclete, the comforter, the advocate, the one promised to come moves, moves, moves in us and around us.

I used Fred Craddock’s story here because this is a story of redemption.  It’s not a bedside conversion, nor is it a miraculous healing.  But it is a miracle. The miracle here is that the spirit of the Church, the church that is the community of God, the church that is the body of Christ, reached out to offer comfort.  Reached out because they were moved, they were moved, they were moved by the spirit in them and around them.

Professor Stoles of Perkins school of theology says;
The passage begins and ends with love. In v. 15 Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. The reader may ask, "What commandments?" Unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, Jesus gives only a single commandment in John and it occurs in the chapter just before ours: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (13.34-35). He reiterates this in the chapter just after ours: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:12-13). We see, then, the overwhelming, repetitive, circular emphasis on love.[3]

Love is the commandment given to us , love is the comforter, love is the nature of God , Love is Christ. Love is what Moves us, moves us, moves us, Love in us and around us. Love is what compels us in ministry, in life, in relation to one another and in relation to the creator.  It was through Jesus that this nature of love, that goes beyond human comprehension, was revealed and that is what we are being called into.

The professor goes onto remind us that;
It's worth noting that love is tied to John's realized eschatology. (John’s Mystic vision of when we are all one in Christ) Jesus gives one commandment: to love. Therefore, judgment and eternal life begin now. At the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, for John, there's only one question to ask yourself: "In what ways did I or did I not love today?" As you reflect upon that, judgment happens. Where you did not love, there lies judgment. But understand that for John judgment is merely diagnostic, not retributive. Jesus constantly asks the characters questions that help them understand their lives and motives more clearly. To the sick man in ch. 5:6: "Do you wish to be made well?"; to Martha in 11:26: "Do you believe this?". He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers (since John 2:24-25 assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, light, glory, love, abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.[4]

WE are called to love and we are called to examine when we might have missed the mark.  What would our lives look like if we honestly look at our day, every day and ask how have I loved to day? Did I start this day in love?  Did I wake up grateful for a peace filled night?  Did I wake with joy in my heart?  The Joy of a new day ?  The joy of a chance that maybe I will get it right and I know I am going to try?

How did I love today?  When I saw the homeless kid asking for money did I ignore him and walk on by?  Did I look away and choose to be blind?  Or did I open my eyes , maybe apologize cause I have no change today?  Maybe today is the day I have abundance and offer a sandwich or even offer a simple blessing?

As we live in love, everyday calls us a bit further and deeper in our path.  You see in today’s Gospel Jesus is again trying to comfort the disciples though it is bad news that he will be departing it becomes Good news to them and us for he is sending “another advocate” you see Jesus was the first advocate but he is trapped in one local and time.  But when he leaves his disciples are given the spirit.  This spirit is such a strong Loving movement that the disciples move from mere followers to proclaimers, revelers, pouring out Gods message and love to all.” And this happens not just to the first disciples, but all those who would come later, those who never saw the historical Jesus. You see, the evangelist insists that present believers have no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. Everything they were taught and they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture to us.”[5]

It is through this dance of Father, Son and spirit that swirls around us and we get swept up in, that we have the power to move beyond our limitations, our fears, our humanity and love, and act in ways that as mere people we would not be able too. This revelatory comforter, empowers us not only to reach out but to reach within and search for ways that we can be better.  That we can manifest God’s love here today and every day.

You see,
In John, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand close by admiring the majesty of the Trinity; rather, she is an equal part of it. John tries to push at this by grabbing hold of a number of terms and repeating them: abide, love, the language of being "in" (14:17 and 20), and later in the Discourse, an emphasis on "one-ness" (cf. 17:21-23). Johannine believers don't "imitate" Jesus; they participate in him wholly.[6]

This whole participation is not just for the disciples.  This is what we are called into as Christians. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”(John 14:23) We are the home of Christ and God the creator and made possible through the spirit.  We are part of a divine dance. We are called into a sacred way of living.

This is our faith.  Right?  We proclaim we believe in and have a relationship with a living God, the living Christ. “The Easter message is that life rather than death has the final word, and this is crucial for faith. In John's gospel, faith is a relationship with a living being. For there to be authentic faith in Jesus, people must be able to relate to the living Jesus--a Jesus who is not absent but present. Otherwise faith is reduced to the memory of a Jesus who died long ago.”[7]

Of course, we are human why would anyone believe in a man who was punished as a criminal, tortured and died?  Why, or how could any rational person believe that a man, a carpenter with little or, more likely, no education, was killed and rose from the dead? We can’t, we didn’t see it, we have no proof, it is impossible to believe. It is only through the miracle of the holy spirit that we come to know Jesu and the creator.  It is through this comforter this poured out living love that we can have faith.

Craig Koester from Luther seminary puts it this way; “Coming to faith is analogous (akin) to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the living Christ and the living God who sent him, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known.”[8] The spirit is truly Love in action that empowers us to be people of faith. He goes on to explain;

John's gospel calls the Spirit the paraklētos or Advocate, a term for someone who is called to one's side as a source of help. In modern contexts someone may serve as an advocate in the court system, in the health care network, or in an educational institution, while other advocates may press the legislature to act on behalf of a certain cause. A quick reading of John may give the impression that the Spirit is the Advocate who brings our case up before God in the hope that God will do something merciful for us. But here the direction is the opposite. God has already given the gift of love unstintingly through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life. The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible.[9]

But now that we have this faith, now that we have this relationship that moves us, that moves us , that moves us, that calls us to be revelators of the Gospel ourselves.  That calls us into to love where we do not judge others, but judge ourselves in such a way that we better ourselves and try again the next day.  This faith, what do we do with it now?  What are called to do and how are we to do that?

This faith should be so powerful that we do not want to keep it a secret.  This faith should be so empowering that we can easily talk about it with our friends and neighbors.  That we should be posting it on Facebook, twitter and shouting it out on snapchat. We should be reaching out to our community around us as a community of faith and reminding them that there are true alternative ways of being in this world.  The way of being an all loving welcoming presence of faith that operates and reveals Christ to the world around us.

There is a video on you tube called eating Twinkies with God.  I hope it is on our facebook page but you can look it up.  A young boy is preparing a lunch and putting it in his backpack.  As soon as he is bundle his mom walks in and asks where are you off too?  He proudly proclaims I am off to find God. His mother says okay dinner is at six and off he goes.  He walks the street looking about but he doesn’t find God.  He is down in the subway waiting for the train but doesn’t find God.  He arises from the subway and walks around again no God.  He walks into a park and sees a bench and has a seat.  As he looks over on the other side of the bench is a woman with two bags full of clothes looking tired and depressed. He looks at her opens his bag pulls out a Twinkie package and opens it he starts to eat as she just watches.  But he hesitates and offers her the Twinkie.  Her eyes grow wide and a smile comes across her face. They proceed to laugh and giggle and share a apple juice and then he announces he has got to go gives her a hug and leaves. He arrives home and mom asks did you find him?  He announces “God is a woman mom, and she has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen!” we see the homeless woman walking along with a smile and still giggling she sits next to another woman who has a sign asking for money who asks “why are you in such a good mood?”  She answers “ I was just eating Twinkies with God” she giggles and adds “he  is much younger than I expected!”

Our faith and the spirit of love calls us as a community to seek out God and well, share a Twinkie, share a smile, and share some laughter we have to remember to laugh.  We have to examine ourselves and seek out and recognize where we remembered to Love and where we need to better ourselves and try to be a loving presence of God more often.

In conclusion I would like to offer this prayer form the book A Child Laughs …

Holy God, parent and child,
We seek a new view
Immersed in your presence,
Open us to our neighbors.
We admit that we don’t know where to start
And that our neighbor sometimes
Seems mysterious and unknowable.

Help us to see and appreciate diversity
In our community.
Break our stubborn hearts.
Open our minds to recognize the daily challenge of others.
Rather than provide answers
Or try to fix situations we may not understand,
Fill us with child like curiosity so we can explore life together.

Bring an awareness of young voices into our lives.
Renew in us the promise of possibilities.
And keep us honest, God.
Let our efforts be unsullied like ulterior motives like
Increased membership or maintenance of the status quo.

We seek a new vision and renewed spirit
For the pure joy of learning and being in relationship. Amen.[10]

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories (St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2001).
[2] Jamie Clark-Soles, Commentary on John 14:15-21, April 27, 2017, accessed May 12, 2017,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Maria Mankin and Maren C. Trabassi, A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope (Cleavland: Pilgrim Press, 2017).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14 Let not your Hearts be Troubled John 14:1-14

The text today is well, it is a farewell speech.  Pretty much John 13-17 is Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples.  I think it is a little strange that we should hear Jesus giving a farewell speech and offering assurance to his followers after the fact, I mean after the fact for us, but this is what is happening.

Karoline Lewis, a preaching professor at Luther seminary, gives us:
A brief Johannine theological summary: Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples in this discourse anticipate and assume the events that lie ahead: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. Each one of these realities is the result of the primary theological event in the Gospel of John, the incarnation. The disciples are going to be faced with the end of the incarnation, the end of Jesus’ presence on earth as God. Jesus needs them to know that there is more beyond the crucifixion which, for John, is the inevitable outcome of being human. That which becomes human must die.
At the same time, the resurrection and then the ascension are the next realities in store, for Jesus and for his believers. Note that even the resurrection is not the end all. The resurrection presumes that there is something even beyond itself, the ascension. The beginning of chapter 14, in fact, a good portion of the Farewell Discourse as a whole, describes not resurrected life but ascended life with God. Just as Jesus will ascend to the Father, so also will Jesus’ believers, where he goes to prepare an abiding place for them. It is from this particular theological perspective that we need to hear and interpret these introductory claims of the Farewell Discourse.[1]

John is writing for a particular set of Jewish believers who, have just been kicked out of their synagogue for believing in Jesus.  The temple has been destroyed.  There is confusion, fear and suspicion in the Jewish community and the ones on the margins are to be feared.  At the time of this writing that would be anyone in the Jesus movement.

So, if we look at the mindset of the people who John is writing for and the setting of the context of this story itself, we see similarities and may hear, the emotion, the promise and the love John is offering through Jesus words.

The disciples were incredibly confused.  According to the narrative of John’s Gospel starting with chapter 12, Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, only to immediately tell his disciples that the mountain top experience was a mirage and he was going to die a brutal death.  Then he takes the role of a slave and washes their feet, indicating that they are called to do the same.  Finally, he rebukes the favored disciple Peter in front of them by saying Peter will reject him three times.  The heads of the disciples must have been spinning.  In an effort to comfort them and bring them peace Jesus speaks to them in language of love.[2]

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”   Ahhhh that is comforting

“I am the way the truth and the life…no one comes to the father except through me.”  these are words of comfort

We Christians for so long used this text as exclusionary, to say who is in and who is out; “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”.  yet these are just a continuation of I am going to prepare a place for you… Listen to these words in this context. In ancient Jewish times a man would bargain with a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage and then during a twelve-month waiting period he would return to his father’s house and make ready a room for her, sometime this was literally building a room onto the house for the married couple.  Jesus followers would have known and recognized this language of marriage and love.  He was reassuring them that he was true to them and that his love would reach way beyond the troubled future.

Throughout John’s Gospel are a series of statements that Jesus makes called the “I am” statements. Actually, what is interesting is after the opening of John’s Gospel we get to John’s I am not statements.  Basically, John the baptizer explains that I am not the messiah, I am not Elijah and I am not worthy to untie the sandals. (John 1:20, 21, 27)

After john has clarified who the baptizer is not, Jesus starting in John 6 starts making the “I am” statements.  He makes 5 statements referring to himself as the bread of life or that came down from heaven.  “I Am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35).  Jesus goes on to proclaim; “I Am the light of the world” (John8:12). “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58)  I am the gate as we discussed last week.

John is using these I am statements intentionally.  “It might help to note that the form of “I am” in the Greek of John is the exact form of the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14”[3] “God said to Moses; ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) “In effect, John is saying that the same God who was at work revealing himself to the Israelites in the exodus, is now again at work in human history revealing himself in Jesus who is the Christ.”[4]

These “I AM” statements now become something more than just a metaphorical saying or an affirmation of Jesus.  These statements “that the same God who has revealed himself throughout human history, and who has been known by those self-revelatory actions in history, is now revealing himself yet once again in Jesus as the Christ.”[5]

With all of this in mind “I Am the way, the Truth and the Light” (John 14:6) Not only are words of comfort but can also be a challenge to us. As Jesus the Christ, the I Am, is the way we must ask what is that way and how are we called to participate in the way.  How are we called to participate and honor Jesus’ way, the way of an active, participatory God who has been active in human history since the beginning of time and is still active today.

We do this by being good Christians and showing the world that Christianity is still relavent today. ““Christianity matters because it reveals the deep mysteries of God and the meaning of all life. It shows us what life is for and when it is at its best. And what is this ultimate revelation? The answer is surprisingly and profoundly simple: Christianity reveals the life of God and therefore also the meaning of life as a way of love.”[6]

Kara Pearce writes;
Everyone is in favor of love. Great. But it is a word thrown about so much it barely means anything anymore. I love that movie! I LOVE that restaurant. We mean we appreciate an attribute of something else – the movie stirred up emotion, the restaurant’s atmosphere or salmon filled us. Media and television and movies are soaked with love stories, too often about warm fuzzy feelings or misplaced sexual expression. But these simple words, spoken and backed up, change the world. I bet many of us remember the first time we expressed our love to the person we would one day marry, or the first time it was really said to us. The vulnerability that is required to tell someone you love them is both thrilling and terrifying.[7]

Saying I love you is challenging enough but then living into that love.  Walking with someone and loving them though they just said something so stupid you cannot believe it even came out of their mouth.  Staying with someone when only one can work and finances and thus relationships become strained. Staying with someone and slowly watching them fade away as this journey comes to an end. But the Way, the way we are called too is more than that.

This way of Love that we are challenged into goes beyond the personal relationship.  We are called to try to find a way for all of us not only to live well together on this planet but seek out the least of us and figure out what we can do to make this a better place.

Our life together can be better.  Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion- from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good.  Jesus issued the call and announced the kingdom of God-a new order of living in sharp contrast to all political and religious kingdoms in the world. That better way of life was meant not to just benefit his followers but everybody else too.[8]

All of Christ’s message was about breaking down barriers.  Seeking out those who had less or were marginalized and lifting them up. Inviting them to table or better yet he invited himself into the homes where no one of any reputation would be seen. Christ’s message and ministry was not some magic formula where one claims to be a Christian therefore they have a passport to heaven and a license to demean or alienate the other.

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, It’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.  Jesus told us a new relationship with god also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. But we don’t always hear that from the churches.  This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good, which has fallen into cultural and political –and even religious—neglect.[9]

I believe we went through a radical shift on the occasion of 9/11.  Suddenly, more than ever in my lifetime, it was okay to make all things about us or them! I was living alone in downtown palm springs at the time and I awoke to watching the crash over and over again then the 2nd plane hit and I just watched for hours till the towers collapsed.  I was numb and decided to go to the local gathering place to be around some from friends. Hoping to find comfort in our time of national grief. The first thing I heard someone say was we need to go bomb the heck out of them.  My heart sank.

Someone once said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth si a very quick way to a blind toothless world!”      

I think in many ways this world has not recovered from that.  That tonality that it is either us or them.  In today’s culture the language is much the same.  It is a war on the middleclass. It is they are stealing your jobs.  It is the top 1% vs the 99.  It is the big city vs the small farm.  Our language our cultural way of looking at stuff has become so dichotic that everything is measured against the other.

We have forgotten the greatest commandment of them all. Love one another.  Jesus’ way is Love.  I think we need to start addressing some of these issues from a place of love.  We have to find a way to leave the us vs them behind and reach out in the purest and simplest and honest place of love.  Then it is it is about serving and caring for something that requires no comparison.

I am not sure this is coming out right.  I do not reach out to serve the poor.  The poor is an objectified term where one human is measured against another.  I am called to love my neighbor to serve my neighbor and in that we are all neighbors and the language of lesser than or greater than diminishes. I serve because I am called to serve period.  I reach out to the stranger, the marginalized, the person in pain because we are neighbors and I am called to act in the language of love.  This is the way.

In the same way when I address some views that I know are harder for some than others I must approach it from a place of love.  I know this world is changing fast.  Faster than many can keep up with or may choose not even to try.  I am not going to change their heart by forcing my version of the truth down their throat.  We change hearts and lives by living into what we believe, by living into who we are called to be.  Not by preaching but by acting.  In this way, we can be as a river is to a stone, slowly rounding out the sharp corners.

The Truth.  Jesus is the Truth.  The truth is we cannot do it without Jesus’ example.  The truth is we cannot do this work if we do not maintain an honest and constant relationship with God.  Jesus taught us to pray.  Jesus told us to pray.  Prayer needs to be a daily exercise that feeds you and inspires you and strengthens your resolve to love your neighbor.

I have said this to others and now I am going to tell you, it is hard to love your neighbor.  What is even worse It is hard to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Quite frankly you do not want me to treat you like I treat myself because somedays I am really bad about my self-care, I bet you are too.

We allow ourselves to be over worked, we neglect our health or put off our own care till It’s too late. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed about bad news, bad habits and bad posture.  I would not encourage us to treat each other as we do ourselves and that is why it actually says as you would.

It is through a prayerful relationship with the other, the creator, with the one who cannot be named, with the great I Am, with God, with Jesus Christ.  That we can see how we should be treating and caring for ourselves. It is through prayer a good relationship with God that we can see how we should be treating and caring for our neighbor and even how we should be treating and caring for our most challenging enemy.

When we are frustrated with ourselves.  When we are frustrated, scared or even angered by the world we live in, by our neighbors or even when we are angry with ourselves we must turn back to today’s Gospel.  We must turn back to the most gentle and comforting words of Jesus.  “let not your Hearts be troubled.”

I find todays words even more comforting than “Peace be with you!” when I am hurting my silent prayer becomes Jesus words to us.  I listen to hear these words in my heart and encourage you to do the same.  The first words of today’s scripture I will leave with you as my final words in this sermon and my prayer to you and to the world. Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Amen.

[1] Karoline Lewis, Commentary on John 14:1-14, 05, accessed May 9, 2017,
[2] Scott Hoezee, ed., The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 73.
[3] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[4] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[5] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[6] Norman Wirzba, Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity (New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016).
[7] Karen Pearce, The way of Love as the way of Jesus, March 5, 2017, accessed May 10, 2017,
[8] Jim Wallis, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2013).
[9] Ibid.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May 7 Christ larger and Broader John 10:1-10

What is being said here?  Jesus is the gate and yet he is the shepherd, there is a gate keeper but that is not Jesus.  Jesus is the gate and shepherd. There are sheep and they have been harassed by thieves and bandits. Oh and there are other sheep around as well.  “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand” (John 10:10)

Really, I wonder why?  Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Interpreted in the spirit of Johns Gospel, in the spirit of Love this is an all welcoming all-inclusive day.  Unfortunately, some have chosen to take this Parable, as literal and out of context and use it to diminish and or exclude those of other faiths. 

This is the story of the Blind man, this is the context of Jesus speaking to the blind man and then to Pharisees.  This is a parable or as close to one as John gets. The Harper Collins study bible says this;

This is the closest thing to a parable of the Gospel of John. It seems to present a highly realistic picture of Palestinian sheepherding in ancient times, and hints at a plotline.  The “Parable” focuses first on the gate, and then on the shepherd.  For another possible parabolic image sheepfold, an enclosure, often with stone walls, where several shepherds could bring their flocks for safety at night.[1]

So, this is where I break from a restrictive reading. I believe if we read this text in the context of Johns Gospel it leads to a unique place.  Let’s recall the opening of Johns Gospel;

In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being. (John 1: 1-4)

Through the opening words of Johns Gospel and todays text I see a place where we can honor all faith and all people and all of creation.  For if everything came into being through Christ then all, each one of us are of Christ. Jesus is our Shepherd but there are other Shepherds who come to the sheepfold and other sheep follow their shepherd who also were created through the word, therefore are of Christ.

Though we have our differences, among ourselves as UCC, among Christians as people who follow Christ, and as a world made up of “4,200 religions. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect.”[2] There is a belief of the Golden rule, a thread of ultimate truth that runs throughs most religions. Dr. Ernest Holmes wrote in 1948;

We should waste no time in futile arguments as to what religion or spiritual outlook is right or wrong, but gladly accept the evidence of anyone’s prayer and faith as a demonstration of that person’s belief. Too much time is lost in arguing whether or not one’s philosophy is the only correct one, her religion the only true one, his method of procedure the only effective one. Let us leave these arguments to the contentions of smaller minds and try to find the thread of Truth running through all systems. Let us build on the affirmative and forget the negative.[3]

Do not panic, I am not negating Christianity.  You are in the right place, the right pew, you are where you need to be and where you are called to be just as I am. What is it we are called to? We are called to love all and so it runs through the faiths and practices of many in the world.

Sikhism says; “Be not estranged from one another for god dwells in every heart” (SRI GURU Granth) Sahib

Zoroastrianism; “Human nature is good only when it does not do unto Another whatever is not good for its own self” (Dadistan I Dink 94:5)

Isalm; “No one is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.” (Sunnah)

Judaism; “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor That is the entire Torah the rest is commentary go and learn” (Rabbi Hillel to Shammai Talmud Shabbat 31 A)

Jainism; “In happiness and Suffering in joy and grief regard all creatures as you would your own self.” (Lord Mahivir 24th Tirthankara)

Bahai; “Blessed are those who prefer others before themselves” (Bahai’u’llah Tablets of Baha’ uallah 71)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:13)

What I am saying is that this Gospel reading and Johns Gospel points to a Christ Larger and broader than we really understand. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God! And all things came into being through him” (John 1:1-2)  well that kind of puts away any chance we have at diminishing any one! That also puts all creation on a level playing field.

This is a cosmic Christ a Christ bigger than any one faith or religion; Richard Rohr explains it this way;

Understanding the Cosmic Christ can change the way we relate to creation, to other religions, to other people, to ourselves, and to God. Knowing and experiencing the Cosmic Christ can bring about a major shift in consciousness. Like Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), you won’t be the same after encountering the Risen Christ.[4]

Christianity is just beginning to understand and learn of this.  Yet if we flow with the Cosmic Christ that all things are created through we can understand and accept Jesus as a shepherd and the Gate for all come through the gate that the gate keeper allows in. Richard Rohr goes on to explain;

“The Cosmic Christ is Divine Presence pervading all of creation since the very beginning. My father Francis of Assisi intuited this presence and lived his life in awareness of it. Later, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) put this intuition into philosophical form. For Duns Scotus, the Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1). Teilhard de Chardin brought this insight into our modern world. God’s first “idea” was to become manifest—to pour out divine, infinite love into finite, visible forms. The “Big Bang” is now our scientific name for that first idea; and “Christ” is our theological name. Both are about love and beauty exploding outward in all directions. Creation is indeed the Body of God! What else could it be, when you think of it?[5]

Later in this exposition Jesus even says; “I am the Good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” (John 10:15-16) If I have gone too far for you, tell me so, it is okay.  If I have not gone far enough, challenge me.  But I truly believe this Gospel message today is one of inclusion. The same inclusion we proclaim daily that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s Journey you are welcome here.  It is also why we proclaim this is an open table it.  This table belongs to no one and everyone for it is Gods table if you are a child of God you are welcome here.

Our challenge as Christians is to be the welcoming table at all times.  We are called to be hospitable first and then to go further. Jesus is the gate through which many shepherds have gone, Jesus is the word through which all creation comes.  Now we just have to honor that in each and every thing and everyone.

Psalm 23 the message

 1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies. (and I would add in the light of Christ Call me to invite them to join me)
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life amen!

[1] general, ed., The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, ed. student (San Francisco, Calif: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
[2] wikipedia, List of religions and spiritual traditions, April 27, 2017, accessed May 2, 2017,
[3] Barry Ebert, Teaching our Children Well, 2015, accessed April 2, 2017,
[4] Richard Rohr, e-mail message to, October 22, 2017.  Richard Rohrs daily Meditation.
[5] Ibid.