Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today is Trinity Sunday John 3:1-17

Today is Trinity Sunday…we celebrate the three musketeers that are God three for all and all are one…It is a bit confusing.  What makes it more confusing is for some it is a core theological belief for others …well they believe in God, period. There is a commentator who shares this about God
“There is a foundation-shaking reality behind our words and our actions in worship, an utter holiness beneath our feeble attempts to pray and praise such an awesome God. How do our liturgy and the beauty of our sanctuaries even begin to touch the hem of such a robe?”[1]
… I wonder how the text speaks to those in our congregation how do we address this question of being born again? I know for some of us it may get our hair stand on end for this term alone has and is a weapon used by other Christian groups to separate themselves from the pack claiming their way is the only way.

I also wonder how this text is heard by those who are beyond our walls, those not--or no longer--part of a community of faith does this trigger in them what it triggers in me? I know people outside of faith communities experienced God's holiness and God's nearness in other ways and other images. Indeed, how much is God a part of our everyday thoughts? How much time and energy have we given to expanding and deepening our understanding of God, our images of God, our experience of God?

According to Henry G. Brinton, "Our problem today is not that we grasp too much of God, but that we experience too little of God. But if we expand our hearts and minds so that we can encounter God in fresh ways, then we discover a Lord who is extraordinary, not ordinary" [2]
So let us examine Nicodemus who is invited to see God in a new and different way…
Nicodemus. He was, we are told, a leader in his community.
We do not know much about him.
Maybe he was a lawyer, schooled in the tradition of his people. If so, he would have been a senior partner in the leading law firm in Jerusalem, with all the posh perks and a candidate to be a character in a john Grisham novel.
Likely he was an intellectual, perhaps an academic. If so, he would have been not only tenured, but a distinguished professor with a string of publications and an impressive series of academic lectureships. – Bob?
But then again he could have been a major political leader in Jerusalem, no doubt, with his own political action committee, and all the funding at his disposal that he could have wanted.
In another setting he might have been a corporate CEO, well connected, with access to all levels of power, plus enough stock options to live carefully close to scandal, but always careful enough to stay clear. He could teach a few of our leaders today a lesson or two.
There is no evidence, we just don’t know but I wonder what it would have been like in downtown Jerusalem if he had been a reality star, successful, a handsome man, with endless promotional enterprises, always trending the latest looks, always trending on social media maybe with a a big -time, multiyear contract.
Well we don’t know All that we know is that he is very big, somebody important. Like all important people, his actions are very public, under public scrutiny and endlessly reported.
As the story goes, one night this important man went to a secret rendezvous. H instructed his secretary to get the limo with a trustworthy driver.  You know one who will keep everything very hush. It might have worked too except he had been spotted and it was reported that “He came to Jesus at night.” Can’t you just see it…this big limo pulling up in front of some little mud and straw hut where Jesus was staying in Jerusalem.  Jesus was there for Passover and in this Gospel, he had literally just cleared the Temple.  Perhaps this is another reason for the secrecy.
So now we have this dramatic meeting between Nicodemus, and important man in the Jewish community in Jerusalem and Jesus. Maybe he went to see Jesus out of curiosity. Perhaps the story of Cana had moved him.  Maybe he understood Jesus reaction at the temple and wanted to learn more. This is put out across that this is a huge public risk for Nicodemus that he comes in the cover of night…there must be something more…. Walter Brueggemann says of Nicodemus “he had everything, and he wondered, ‘Is that all there is? Is there something more? Is there something different?  Am I on the right track?’”[3] Well, what would that motivation be for such an important man to take such a risk? Brueggemann says; “it must have been a gnaw about reality.”[4]
Now there is a turn of phrase one doesn’t hear these days a gnaw about reality! It means that well Life was getting him down. He was greatly or deeply trouble perhaps even to a point of anguish or despair.
So, Nicodemus enters this shadowy room, no lights, only an oil lamp.  In the best of all pastoral sense …Jesus waits. Nicodemus hesitates, he knows once he starts to ask questions he just might get answers. So, he starts off safe; “I have heard about you. I have heard about your water-to-wine miracle, but I have also heard about your teaching. I have the impression, good sir, that what you are doing is very odd and very special. I just wondered about it, because what you do sounds to me like the presence of God. We Jewish scholars of tradition know that God alone can do such things. Can you help me here?”[5] It is almost as if Nicodemus is seeking and affirmation of what he holds to be true…you know the old I believe this is what is happening right ok good.
But Jesus can see deeper.  Jesus knows that Nicodemus is seeking more than affirmation.  He can sense the yearning within Nicodemus and gets past his resume, gets past his superficial acknowledgements and aims straight for his deeper questions.  That deeper sense of there is something more to this life that is gnawing at Nicodemus’ heart. Jesu looks at him, Jesus looks in him, with a deep spiritual seeing and says; “You got to start over! You’ve go to be reborn. You need to be made anew.  Born again! Born form above! You must become vulnerable and innocent and see the world with a sense of wonder and awe as through the eyes of a child. You need to forget the earthly things that bind you. Your job, your trophies, your diplomas, your money, and your reputation. You must let all that go. Get it out of your head so that you may see the wonder that is the gift of God. You see me do miracles. I do them, because I have given up self.  I have given up that centeredness that is tied to this existence and connected my life to God in such a way that my power comes to me through me from God because of my emptiness. This is how it works with me and God and this is the invitation to you as well. Start over in vulnerability and innocence and awe and wonder. The way you are living now cuts you off, your sureness, your arrogant security keeps you from all the gifts of life for which you so much yearn.”
There is a long pause.  Jesus waits.  Nicodemus’ face gets kind of screwed up as he thinks this over.   “This is not possible”, Nicodemus exclaims!” What he says is being biologically born again is impossible but what he is actually thinking is …you, you, Jesus are asking too much; I cannot give it all up. What he feels is a cold sense of alienation and impotence, a wish for newness, but afraid of what it all means. He says thinking biologically, but wondering socially “How can that be?” The question sounds like a conclusion: it could not be …could it?
Almost as if he is reading his mind Jesus says again “You have to start over.” Nicodemus, confused, sits in silence waiting for more from Jesus. In spiritual direction I have a practice that when some one says something simple and sweet I, will say nothing but wait, wait for the more to come. Nicodemus waits, and Jesus goes on using Hebrew… “It’s like the wind. You cannot make it blow; but when it does blow, you cannot stop it.”
Jesus was splaying with words.  Jesus knew that Nicodemus would understand that the Hebrew word for wind and spirit were one in the same, ruah:
“you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (v.8)
Nicodemus is just more confused than ever.  Then in the midst of his confusion Jesus says…Well The only one who has access to this is me. I am the one who comes from God and I, the son of man, will be lifted up (v14).
“The phrase, ‘Lifted up’, in the fourth Gospel, means lifted up on the cross, made high in elevation by crucifixion. (I would argue it means dot be lifted high through resurrection via crucifixion). The spirit is the power of God that enables us to contradict the world and the world’s expectations, and to sign on for the innocence and vulnerability and dependence…and freedom …that had not been, someone free for God’s way in the world, someone not captive to the pressures and demands and dictions of the world , someone called by God to be their true self, powered by the wind, dazzled by the (resurrected) one, as innocent as one born…again.”[6]
People do not see it, but this is a perfect text for Trinity Sunday.  Jesus addresses the Spirit, Himself and God. And the midst of the concept of Trinity that scholars and theologians try to explain and create doctrine about ...we stand with Nicodemus!

We stand with Nicodemus in our confusion about it all.  We stand in our need to get past this…Past this world that is so broken, the world cries for love every day and so we…we stand with Nicodemus with his question is this all there is …. we try and try and yet there is always more and where do we turn where are we called….
“Wait for the wind that will blow you to freedom;
and watch for the one lifted up in our midst.”[7]
Now that secret meeting is over.  Nicodemus gets back into his limo, but he is not the same man as when he stepped out. Who could be after a meeting with Jesus.  Nicodemus knows there is work to be done.  If we follow the limo we might see it stop by a beggar on the street and instead of just tossing some coins out a window we see the passenger get out and walk into a local tavern with the man as they sit, talk and order a meal. Through out the meal he had these odd words running through his  head.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that one who believes in him may have eternal life. (v.16)
Nicodemus understands that this is not easy mantra but an invitation, and invitation to be reborn, innocent, vulnerable, open to the movement of the wind, with his heart moving towards the unseen, towards the resurrection.  The world seemed open now, the way he saw the world was completely contradicted by this new way of being.  As he took some water to share with his new-found friend he could not help but wonder if, as he poured, it might turn to wine. He wondered if in the bread they shared, there might be new life. He was awe struck as an innocent child seeing the world anew as for the first time with all of its possibilities.
So we stand with Nicodemus in this wonder of trinity.  In this wonder of God emptied into a man who walked and experienced all of life as fully as possible.  A man who was crucified as a common criminal and yet was lifted high in the resurrection as the glorified Christ.  Who sent the spirit, the comforter which is in this room as we speak.  Stirring our hearts and our minds towards new birth and new ways of being.
It is a calling into relationship with God the creator, Jesus the Christ and the holy spirit.  That is the trinity, but it is funny because the trinity doesn’t work without us. We have been invited into this sacred dance.  This spiritual whirlwind if you will, we are caught up in the dance.
It is through this dance that we are fed spiritually and challenged to grow.  We are called to share the news of this spirit that God loves oyu.  No matter who you are, rich man, educated woman, beautifully transgendered person or something in between. It just doesn’t matter.
This is a radically strange and beautiful thing to be Christian.  To be born of spirit and water. 
The water being the physical outward sign that we are part of something, a community.  A nice neat package we are the united church of Christ Petaluma.  I have my membership.  It doesn’t matter if I got my membership in the Baptist church or the catholic all counts we proclaim one baptism.
Then comes the born of spirit part.  The born of spirit part is the challenge.  For it is the spirit who troubles the water. It moves us outside of these walls.  It calls us to do so much more than just Sunday. It calls us out to participate and share the good news. The Good news that you are loved.
One of the things we do is we have the basket in the back for hat Gloves scarves.  I would like to see, Just how many hats and scarves we can make over the summer.  Now I use the knitting loom which is easy to use, and I would be happy to teach anyone who is interested in donating some time and yarn to make hats and scarves.  I know we can knit sox as well, but I haven’t learned that one yet.
The dinner for six are going and through that we get to learn of each other’s stories. We minister to each other through deep listening and shared food. I am wondering this is just a thought for exploration. Can we do a community supper or lunch maybe once a month that is for our communities here and friends and neighbors.  3 congregations, one meal free to anyone who wishes to come? This literally just came to me as I am writing this.
There is a habitat build coming in this fall. There are the cots birdhouses that I am sure Heidi would be grateful for some help with.  These are all ways that the spirit move sin and around and through this congregation towards the community around us.
I pray that the spirit is moving each and everyone of oyu towards something new.  Perhaps it is just something new for yourself like seeking a spiritual director, maybe joining the book group, or the dinner for six.
I pray that the spirit puts something on your heart that you may see a need and we as a community can help fill it. Look around oyu r neighborhood, your town, where is god calling us as a congregation to make a change?  Where is the spirit leading this congregation as the loving presence of God to make a difference?
As the old song goes the spirit is a moving all over all over this land

[2] Ditto

[3] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 284-287
[4] Ditto, 285
[5] Ditto
[6] Brueggemann, 286
[7] Brueggemann, 287

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The spirit of truth will guide you into all truths - John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Good Morning church, (ASL) Dzien dobry (Polish), Buenos dias (Spanish), Nyado delek (Tibetan), Endermen aderkh (armarhic), Bari Luys (Armenian), Kali Mera (Greek), Shubh Prabhat (Hindi).  I have just announce good morning or good day in several languages those languages were ( as listed above)….  But what has that to with today??
Today is Pentecost Sunday and one of the most common stories of todays is when the Apostles started to come out of the “upper room” speaking and the story in acts says each heard them in their own tongue.
“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. “(acts 2:1-7)
“For the Apostles, it must have felt like creation all over again, with wind and fire, and something new bursting forth. Then there was the amazing linguistic experience of speaking in other languages yet being understood by people of many different languages and lands, the names of which represented the known world at that time and have caused no small anxiety to worship leaders in every time.
No matter: in that moment, all the people were one in their hearing, if not their understanding of the deeper meaning of what they heard. Despite their differences, they could all hear what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.
Fire, wind, and humble Galileans speaking persuasively in many tongues were dramatic signs that God was doing a new thing that would transform the lives of all those present, and far beyond, in time and place”[1]
How confusing and yet miraculous this must have been for not only were the apostles blessed by the spirit so that they each could speak other languages all those other people heard them speaking each in their own tongue, so the spirit must have overflowed and enabled the hearers to truly hear.
Todays Gospel reading Jesus is foretelling of the comforter to come.  Jesus even says to the ones he loves it is to your advantage that I must leave…who must be thinking really to my advantage …I don’t want you to go… I love you…I want you to stay…
But Jesus explains if I go I can send the comforter and when the comforter arrives the comforter will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and Judgement.
Oh I think the spirit is still teaching the world that she is wrong about sin, Judgement and righteousness.
Jesus says when the spirit of truth comes, the spirit of truth will guide you to all truth….
Note Jesus did not say right away…Jesus did not say that once the truth is revealed through the comforter to humankind that it will be that we understand it all because if through the spirit we could understand it all…if we really got it all…would this world be in the same condition we are in??
I mean if we truly understood that Jesus teachings of love, community, open table would this world be the way it is?
Would our human history still be so violent?
In the spirit of truth and Christ’s love
Wouldn’t the cast system would be gone…there would be no rich or poor…no higher or lower…no free or slave…and yet all that is still operating in this world.
For 2000 years the spirit has been guiding us into the truth and I am happy to say we have been fighting it kicking and screaming all the way…when I say we, I mean humanity…
There was an article written by our conference minister this week that :
“What would it feel like for us to put ourselves in the shoes of another person? What if we spent more time envisioning what it would be like if we were the ones experiencing injustice, abuse, bullying, and oppression?
I read an article this past Tuesday, April 15, which was the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the day that 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their home in the 1948 Palestine war. The author of the article, Catherine Alder, is a member of the UCC Palestine Israel Network (PIN) and lives in Oregon. Her “What If? “article asked us to imagine what it would be like if the State of Oregon was suddenly designated as the place for hundreds of thousands of persons in trouble in Europe to come to live and what if those already living there were forced out of their homes as a result. … She goes on to paint a picture of what the Palestinians have endured in their own region and asked us to imagine what it would be like if the same events were to have happened in Oregon.

As I read the article my immediate reaction was, “No way, would we stand for this.” We would fight back and demand justice and reparation for the people of Oregon. We can clearly see the injustice in forcefully removing a people who own homes and have established their lives in the community. We would stand up and speak out for the people of Oregon to be restored to their rightful place.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we are able to see things so much more clearly.

What happens if we found more and more ways to imagine the “what ifs?” in our society?

What if you someone who was born in this country were to put yourself in the position of an immigrant family who has lived in this country for over a decade and for whom this may be the only home your children know? Perhaps you have tried every possible way to become a legal citizen in a system that doesn’t allow for that to happen. How confusing would it be for you to now be told you don’t belong here and there is no way for you to make it legal?

What if I, as a white mother, were to put myself in the position of a black or brown mother with a young adult son? Can I imagine what it would be like to worry every day if I have done a good enough job teaching my son how to stay safe and what to do if he’s pulled over by the police? And, if I am part of one of the many households struggling to make ends meet, how can I balance more than one job while also making sure I can put a meal on the table and find time to partner with my children and their teacher to insure they receive the best education possible and every opportunity to succeed?
If we are able to imagine what it would be like for us to live in situations very different from anything we have ever experienced I believe we are more motivated to stand up against abuse, violence, oppression and injustice that we see happening to other people. When we hear stories of injustices experienced by others we may try to rationalize what we hear and explain how there must be something we don’t know or understand. But when we imagine those same injustices happening to us we are able to see and feel how wrong it is and, I hope, be willing to do something. After all, if we know it’s not right for us why would we believe it was ok for anyone else?”[2]
This is what it means to be guided into truth by the spirit…A challenge for us …to imagine what it means to be the other…the other person…the other race. The other who is oppressed, abused, denied, cajoled, expelled, imprisoned, beaten and yes even killed for be what they believe or just for being who they are.
Are book group had a very hard read these past two months where a black man who was born into poverty who has been an ordained minister for 35 years and is a professor of sociology at Georgetown speaks of his experience. The title is Tears we cannot stop: a sermon to White Americ.  Dr Michael Eric Dyson tells of experiences that are hard…he speaks from pain and yes even anger it will passionately stir up some thoughts ..I know it did for me.
Chapter 6 is titled Benediction subtitled responsive…but that is not a word for there is a period between each letter it is an acronym R.E.S.P.O.S.I.V.E.   First asks for the R reparations and he admits it is hard to understand and that politically it may be impossible to bring about but individually we can even if it is a msall donation to a scholarship or perhaps making we support places that have fair hiring practices and just pay.
He asks that we Educate our selves around black life and literacy he says “Racial literacy is as necessary as it is undervalued.”[3] There is something we should try to do and try to do often not just with black America but with all the rich cultures that surround us.
The next letter is S which he says “you must not only read about black life, but you must School your white brothers and sisters your cousins and uncles your loved ones and friends and anyone who will listen to you, about the white elephant in the room…white privilege”[4]..i am gcoming back to this in just a second or 5
The next letter was P, participation. Go to rallies, prayer meetings, protests and community meetings anywhere you can make a difference.
Then he asks us to use the letter S speak up speak up against injustice
One issue he reminds us with the letter I is the distinction between Immigrant experience and the Black American experience though they over lap we need to learn there is a difference
The V in responsive is Visit he says to visit schools, jails and churches of the three he says “visiting a black church is just good for your soul. The best black churches do many of the things religious folk should be doing if they are concerned about the poor and the lost.”[5]
And the final E is about walking in some one shoes for that moment he says “All of what I said should lead you to empathy. It sounds simple, but its benefits are profound.”[6]
The Holy spirit shall lead you truth…National geographic has a series by Katie Couric and she went to a university where she took the privilege walk  they only showed a clip but I decided as the final aprt of this reflection to read you the activity just imagine yourself doing this
The following is the complete set of questions from the classroom version of this activity.

If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.
If your primary ethnic identity is "American," take one step forward.
If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If there were people who worked for your family as servants, gardeners, nannies, etc. take one step forward.
If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.
If one or both of your parents were "white collar" professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.
If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.
If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.
If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.
If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.
If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.
If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.
If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.
If you have health insurance take one step forward.
If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.
If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.
If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.
If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.
If you have a disability take one step backward.
If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.
If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.
If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.
If you own a car take one step forward.
If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.
If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were paid less, treated less fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.
If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
If you attended private school at any point in your life take one step forward.
If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If your parents own their own business take one step forward.
If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.
If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.
If you use a TDD Phone system take one step backward.
If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
Imagine you are in a relationship, if you can get married in the State of ___ take one step forward
If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.
If your parents attended college take one step forward.
If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.
If you are able to take a step forward or backward take two steps forward.[7]
Todays is the churches birthday we are called to continue the work of Gods truth that we are all create din the image of God and not one of us are living in a just world for all…nope not yet…it is through the spirit we called to get this work done…so though we may celebrate to day and to day is the sabbath a day fo rest the other times we should be seeking out the opportunity to work for fair wage for fair pay…to work with sanctuary or the dreamers…engage in the new poor peoples campaign seek out how we can walk with the other…and do what we can to bring about the Just world for all that we seek.

[3] Dyson, Michael Eric. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. New York: St. Martins Press, 2017. P199
[4] Ditto 209
[5] Ditto 210
[6] ditto

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Mothers Prayer - John 17:11-19

There is a moment in Despicable me too During Gru and Lucy's wedding that Agnes says
to herself “Okay.” As she stands on top of the girls' wedding table and turns to everyone else and says in a timid voice “Excuse me? Um, hi, excuse me?” Her sister Margo ticks on her glass with a fork multiple times like a cow bell, attracting everyone's attention to a nervous Agnes as she continues “Uh, [clears her throat] Hi, everybody! I'd like to make some toast. Uh... [looks at Gru]”
[smiles; quietly] Okay.
“[nervous] She, um, she kisses my boo-boos, she braids my hair. [happily] We love you mothers everywhere, [turns to her parents] and my new mom Lucy is beyond compare. [receives an outstanding ovation]”
I can sort of relate to that…you see I was adopted. The story goes that My parents were not able to have children of their own and so they decided to try to adopt. Being good Catholics, they went through the Catholic adoption services.
They had a ton of paper work to fill out and they had to endure the nerve wracking interviews and  home visits just to reassure the agency all was well and then they had to wait. They were told they would have to foster a child first. This way the agency could observe them and be sure they were fit not just to adopt but to raise a child.
One Saturday my mother got a phone call that they had a baby boy for them.  My father was on maneuvers as he was in the reserves.  His commanding officer called him into the office, which I am sure was nerve wracking because well you just don’t get called into the commanding officers office to say hello. They sent him home, so he could be there for my arrival.
A year later they were allowed to adopt me.  That is how I got a mother and a father. A year later we adopted my brother and then 8 years after me we adopted my sister….and that’s how I got a family.
I know my Mother prays for me but more importantly I know she prays for this congregation after all remember …she raised me...
Now today is Mother’s Day and we honor all those who are mothers, who have been mothering in one way or another…for some that might have been a mister mom or a sibling who stepped into the role for others Mother day may be a bit painful depending on how one’s relationship was with their mother and or perhaps your mother is no longer with us.
I just want to acknowledge that for some this may be hard and for others it may be a less traditional celebration...we lift prayers for all today
So, knowing today is mother’s day I went hunting

Samuel, proverbs, exodus, genesis, Ezekiel, Mathew, Romans, Luke, Ephesians, Kings, timothy, Isaiah, Hebrews, and acts… These are some of the readings used for Mother’s Day but I found no reference to this reading…Now I know this reading had to be read on Mother’s Day before just because of the cycle of the readings and the way the calendar works.  So, after some thought, I decided to stay with this reading as this is the reading for today and it is a beautiful prayer.
Jesus is praying for his followers. Jesus reminds them that the Father… I am sorry let’s try that again … loving parent God, mmm we had a deacon down in north Hollywood who would always say with the greatest of ease mama papa God….  But for today, for today let us say Mother God. Jesus reminds them that had chosen them and appointed the Son over them. They had come from the world, and Jesus had given them the words the Mother had instructed for them to be taught. He tells the Mother that they had accepted and kept this word. He also says that they had surely believed that Jesus had been sent by the Mother.
This seems to be rather odd words for Jesus to be speaking about the disciples, particularly because the men were about to utterly fail Him in His moment of crisis. And as Jesus predicted, Peter denies him three times. Judas betrays him.  None of the men can stay awake with him…they all flee before the cross except for one. it is only the beloved disciple and the women followers who stay. Even we, who have the rest of the story in front of us sometimes have difficulty following what Jesus says here. So why does Jesus treat them as though they were faithful followers?
Perhaps one way to look at this is that Jesus does not just see us where we are. He sees us also after He has finished working with us. God calls us to grow and live into who we are called to be. Yet we, as children, are prone to wander off.  We are but human and often we do not feel that we deserve to be called children of God. But God makes everything perfect in Her time in her way. Just as we proudly proclaim here, no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey and that is not just a saying that is the grace of being children of God.
The disciples would emerge from these days of the crucifixion scarred, but Jesus would rise from the dead to bolster them. He and the Mother would send the Holy Spirit to guide them. They would become bold witnesses who would lay down their lives for Jesus and for their brothers and sisters in Christ. So, Jesus calls us what we shall become. The failures will pass. Later on, Paul could call the Corinthians “saints” even though their behavior was hardly “saintly.” This should give us hope as well. We have the promise that the One who began a good work in us will finish it in the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus had said about Himself that His work was successfully finished, even before the cross. It was finished before it was finished. This is the way God works in us. She sees us as complete just where we are.
So, what if we listen to todays reading with a loving mother words in mind as she prays for her children

Loving God
I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women, my children, that you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me, to care for, to teach, to raise
And now they have done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
The skills you gave me, I give them, the love you gave me I give them…
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Creator Mother Father mama papa God, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be of one heart and mind
As we are of one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.
And not one of them got away,
Except for the rebel bent on destruction
(the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

13-19 Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So, my children can experience
My joy completed in them as through them is my joy complete
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world, oh no lord, I am not asking that,
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So, they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

A simple prayer so simple I can hear mothers all over the world praying almost the exact same thing for their children. Jesus is praying for His disciple’s sanctification. He does not pray that they are set apart from all that may come to them in this world but that they may live into this world blessed.  The prayer is that through their blessing they may bless this world.
This is a prayer lifted by Jesus to his followers knowing he is about to leave, we are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus' continuing presence, now that the work for which he was sent has been accomplished. "I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do" (17:4).
One of the interesting things to note about this prayer is the language of Giving which is found at least nine times in this passage.  There is this concept of giving that is cyclical from the creator to Jesus back to the creator to Jesus, to us back to the creator. Both the Mother and the Son are "givers" and their mutual giving constitutes the grace which we have inherited, and it is through that grace we are called to live. It is in this giving that the Mother and Son are one.
Knowing the Word

This prayer is for us, just as much as it is for Jesus’ followers and in this prayer, we hear that we have been given the "word”. Because of John's witness to the "Word become flesh" (1:14) we are meant to understand that "word" in its double sense. In verse 8 we can see the Christian life as it unfolds in the reception of that word in its multiple senses.
Jesus has given to us only those words which he has first received from the Mother;
we have received and accepted those words
Through our study and faith as receivers of the word we understand that Jesus comes from the creator Mother God
To respond in such a way to the "word" which has been given in Jesus is to know ourselves in the intimate bonds of belonging to him. Similar to Paul's assertion that there is nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38), so the very glory of Jesus in his resurrection is focused in this community of believers who now belong to him. Jesus' prayer claims an intimate oneness in the sharing of concern for these who are the objects of the Mother’s giving love through the Son: "All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them" (17:10).
It would be so nice to just Bask in the words of this prayer, to literally bask in the son, but alas there is still work to be done!
Because of who the Mother is and what the Mother has "given" in love to the Son -- we can know ourselves as made holy and kept holy in the truth of the word (17:17). But that holiness is not a one of separation from, but precisely for immersion in the world. Again, we hear John's "just as" theology of the sending of the Son. "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (17:18). Our oneness with the Son and Mother will imply a responsibility for the world. Just as Jesus embraced the world so are we called to minister to the world and even lift prayers for the world and bring the light of the word into its darkest corners.
It is precisely because of the Mother's love, that this community of disciples are sent into the world, just as the Mother's love has sent the Son into the world. We thus are again reminded of the two-fold significance of "world" for John. The world is both that which does not know or understands the word and/or refuses the Word (1:10) , but the world is also the object of the Mother's love and of Jesus’ and the disciples' ongoing love and mission.
As such disciples, too, we are sent into the world armed with the word in its two-fold sense -- the Mother's Word now become flesh, and the words of that Word. We carry that word, that healing message of God into the World. In our struggle to be disciples we are sustained in that word. We can know ourselves as community of Disciples connected and working in a larger community around the globe working through the power of Christ's resurrection and in the promise of his presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter. This is the Creators, the Mother Father God, the mama papa God’s prayer for us today and every day that first and foremost we are the loving community of Christ Living out the prayer that we may all be one and that we work to bring  The Word…the love that is God in to the world …to bring about a just world for all. Amen!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

To Bear Fruit that Lasts John - John 15:9-17

Today’s Gospel reading has us again abiding with God.  Living out the Great commandment to love one another “that our Joy may be complete!” Jesus lifting his followers claiming and proclaiming I no longer call you servants but “I call you friends”.    So Lovely, what a beautiful concept it calls to mind the old hymn Oh what a friend we have in Jesus…  A friend of Jesus a friend in God….
Let me share this Fred Craddock story….
Fred explains that for some reason he had never preached on this verse before and he found himself a little nervous;
“From servant to friend – do you welcome, will you accept this promotion?...
I must acknowledge that my trembling before john 15:15 has an antecedent in a sermon heard almost twenty years ago on a kindred theme: Abraham was called a friend of God James 2:23 The preacher, a large man, made painfully awkward by a number of maladies, including poor eyesight, moved to the pulpit and read in crippled speech his sermon text James 2:23.
His opening words were, “Abraham was a friend of God. I’m sure glad I am not a friend of God.” His sermon was an explanation of why he was pleased not to be a friend of God.... (Fred goes on to explain)
I cannot recall being so engaged in a sermon… He recalled the story of Abraham, pilgrim and wanderer, who, after years of homelessness, died and was buried in a land not his own. “Abraham was a friend of God,” He said; “I’m glad I’m not. “He then spoke of others who had been called friends of God, faithful in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword. He concluded with Teresa of Avila, remembered by the church as a friend of god. He recalled her begging in public to raise funds for an orphanage. After a series of setbacks- flood, storm and fire repeatedly destroying the orphanage- Teresa in her evening prayers said to God, “So this is how you treat your friends; no wonder you have so few.” The sermon closed with Counsel: if you find yourself being drawn into the inner circle of the friends of God, blessed are you. But pray for strength to bear the burden of it.”[1]
Oh what a friend we have in Jesus… Cradock’s story does make one pause
One way this Easter season can be described is "trekking through John's Gospel!" This passage is more of the same of last weeks passage it is a continuation of Jesus’ farewell speech. So, we are still on the move, called to abide in Christ’s love. To make our Home in Christ and allow Christ to make home in us.

This part of Jesus teaching opens with as the father has loved me so I have loved you and ends with I am giving you these commandments so that you can love one another.  A Nice pair of Book ends. But the opening verse does make me ask or ponder and wonder: how has Jesus loved us as God loves Jesus? What is this mirror image supposed to tell us about Jesus' love for his people, the love in which we are to abide?
Well there are some things we learn as we have walk with Jesus through the Gospels… “God’s love towards Jesus is demanding, full of presence and promise, rich in public displays of God's power. It prunes, cleanses, molds, forms, challenges, and supports Jesus in his ministry. This is the love of Jesus Christ in which we are invited to abide.”[2]
This is the Love we are called to live into, a love fully and completely around us at all times Challenging us to do better, to be better. This love we are called into is full of the promise of being welcomed home into the eternal love that is God.
Jesus emphatically says the road of abiding consists in keeping his commandments (John 15:10). So what is Jesus’ commandments he is requiring us to keep? This is the little trick in John…John assumes his readers and his community know the stories of Christ including the great Commandment. Jesus again urges his disciples to do this since he has kept God's commandments, and the results of such abiding, the results of that love were observable in all he did, and we can still live into that presence today!
One commentator reflects that in the first two versus of this reading we can imaging “a parent leaning over a young baby, with smiles, trying to elicit smiles, and with gestures encouraging the baby to do the same as the parent.”  Of course, how many parents recall trying to get their baby to smile and they get everything other than a smile?  Jesus knows we are human. Yet, Jesus' use of himself as the model for love, and for commandment keeping, is anchored in daily life. One imagines his encouragement: "You can do this! You can do this because I have done it, and I am here to show you how to do it."

“Verse 11; “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” This, this is an odd outcome, this is not one would expect to hear…the results of keeping Christs commandments is Joy--joy. And not just any joy, but the joy of Jesus the Christ, a complete joy. I would even venture to say an incomprehensible joy. But what does this mean?  What does this Joy look like? I believe it means an exuberance of faith that nothing can destroy. It means a deep-seated sense of happiness that is not merely emotion alone, but also a lively pleasure in the things of God. It is such a deep-rooted joy that even in the most challenging of times we can find a comfort or even a bit of holy sarcasm…remember Teresa’s prayer…in the face of extreme adversity she can comfortably come to God and say so this is how you treat your friends…
This passage gives a view of what we are truly called to as Christians
… these words of Jesus effectively combine human action, the fulfilling of his commandments, love God with your whole heart and Love your neighbor, with a radical human emotion as their effect, Joy! Abiding in Jesus the risen Lord is not a matter of grim-faced respectability or dour commandment keeping −it is a joy, a holy hilarity!
Right here is the great commandment as Jesus reminds us is "that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). love one another. Jesus extends the depths and extent of this love by saying the greatest expression of love is dying for one's friends.
Let me say this… there are many ways of dying that do not require a cross.
Giving up time or a want, so that another may be happy, sacrificing a meal so another may eat, walking a little further down a road so one does not have to be alone. These are all little deaths, deaths of one’s own ego. Sacrificing of our time, talent and giving up our many ways of being self-serving and becoming self-sacrificing truly this is laying down one’s life for their friends.
Biblical commentators have pointed out some interesting issues of which to be aware of in verses 12 and 13. In these verses, Jesus is speaking of love between and among friends. What about the enemies? The strangers? Would one die for love of these as well? Well, well, well, what about that…if we love our neighbor no matter who that is…how can they be an enemy.  Often one is heard to ask who is my neighbor?  Who am I called to love, who is my friend that I am called to love? Well…mm mm…ok who is my enemy, who, I mean really who is your enemy? Who is so excluded from our world view that we can truly claim them as an enemy. In Mathew we are reminded you have heard love your neighbor, but I say love your enemies.
In this day and age, we may feel we have enemies at times, but do we really? Aren’t our true enemies empire? Perhaps our enemies are attitudes of what mine is mine and what yours is mine, or attitudes of superiority which can easily be seen in white privilege and male dominance or the way society may scapegoat a particular ethnic population. The list could go on and on. But we do not, as Christians, have people as enemies. I believe we have behaviors, attitudes and egos to resist and hearts and minds to change!
 Jesus reminds us “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”, Jesus then clarifies how he regards his disciples. They are not strangers, nor merely disciples, and certainly not just servants: they are friends.
Jesus notes the reason he calls them "friends" is he has shared the riches of all he has with them, in terms of his relationship with God. "I have made known to you everything..." (John 15:15). Here Jesus' offer of the intimacy of friendship is overwhelming. To live in the love of Jesus, Jesus the Risen Lord, is to be invited into friendship with God. There it is, we are invited. Through the Gospels Jesus has made known to us everything as well and so we are called to be friends of God.
Friends of God. The reality of friendship with Jesus offers in full disclosure is this; To know the Risen Christ is to know the heart of God. Then Jesus reminds us we did not choose Christ but Christ choose us…We were chosen just as the disciples are chosen John 15:16 and then we are reminded of what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ…Go and bear fruit ...fruit that will last.
We are recieving something we did not create, go searching for, or earn on our own. This is pure grace…the gifted-ness of God.
But there responsibility attached to the work of fruit bearing. Not only are we to do it, but we are to bear "fruit that will last."
Bearing fruit means making wise choices and decisions for the work of and on behalf of God. It means acting thoughtfully over a life time; discerning what thoughts, words, and actions best serve the intentions of a loving God in this world.
Let us Pray as we continue to grow in God the we be that loving presence of Christ, just as Christ is that loving presence in us. So that all around us one by one hearts and minds may be changed, bent towards the arch of love. That truly is fruit that will last!

[1] The collected sermons of Fred B Craddock189-190
[2] Sermon seeds