Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Troubling Peace. John 14:23-29

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Sunday, May 19, 2019

What Is this "New Commandment?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this how we love one another?

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

Is this how we love one another?

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

Is this how we love one another?

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

Is this how we love one another?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, May 12, 2019

In the midst of fear and Doubt

Most people are naturally curious. We wonder why things are the way they are and we investigate them, whether that’s exploring the great cosmos, simply checking IMDB to see where we’ve seen that actor before or seeing how many degrees, I am from Kevin Bacon.
I am 3. I worked with Lily Tomlin who was in Shadows and Fog with John Malkovich who was in Queens Logic with Kevin Bacon.

Some of the most naturally curious people are kids, which means they have awesome questions. Such as when cookies are baking “are the cookies loading?”

“If plants need rain and sun to grow, and rainbows are made of light and water, are rainbows plant food?”

“Why are you buying beer, Dad? Do you know how much candy we could get with that money?”

And of course, there is the satirized why? But why? Why?

In today’s Gospel “Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Porch during the festival of lights, or Hanukkah (verse 22-23). This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice -- something his life and teachings were all about.

And into this setting again comes the identity question: “Hey, Jesus, stop keeping us in the dark. If you’re the Messiah, just tell us straight out” (verse 24). My belief is that Jesus is getting pretty tired of these questions. This need to question Jesus’ identity is sometimes called the messianic secret of John. John has used the term messias two times to explain to non-Jews who Jesus is. It is the equivalent term to christos, or the anointed one. But the questioners still don’t get it.”

One has to give Jesus his due here.  How many times must he answer this question especially for John’s special people “the Jews.” Now remember in John “sometimes the Jews and the Pharisees seem to function synonymously; elsewhere the Jews may stand for the priestly classes. All this suggests the Jews refers principally (though not exclusively) to members of the establishment / leadership / hierarchy / power-wielding classes. It is well established from the Synoptic tradition that the Pharisees were Jesus' principal sparring partners during his ministry, and that the priests were instrumental in his death.”

Jesus is being asked once again prove to us who, exactly, he is. Jesus has over and over again given the people around him proof of who and what he is (verse 25). He has performed miracles, he has taught wisely, he has accompanied the most vulnerable of society yet he is still questioned.

“He has had others question his identity repeatedly. This was normal at the time. Folks who taught or prophesied were often asked to give proof of their deeds and the power behind their gift. But the questions in this passage go beyond that. They are questioning not only his identity but if his power is verifiably from God (verse 25). And as I hear that doubt creep into their questions, I am reminded that doubt is a constant companion to faith.”

There it is, the hard truth. We doubt!

Many in our communities of faith experience doubt. They doubt their abilities to overcome difficult situations, they doubt if they will make it through without succumbing to an old addiction, they doubt their friends or parents are aware of how much pain they are in, and they doubt God’s presence in their lives and their connections to God.

Others may see a need they could meet but doubt their own capabilities in the light of a faith setting.  This is where one may hear such things vocalized as I am just one person what can I do?  I am not a minister what do I know of these things?

We see doubt in the church as it grows and expands its knowledge, understanding and recognizes its call to the community around it.  There is doubt as the church hears it’s call to be of service the marginalized.  There is doubt in the Church as it tries to answer the call to love all and allow love to rule.  We hear doubt in the church as it is called to stand for a just world. We hear doubt in the church as it is called to care for the earth.

Many fall into fear and doubt because many of these things go against what they grew up believing. Many things the church is doing feels strange or out of the norm.  This is where we hear doubt raised in the form of regression…we have always done it this way (also known as the back to Egypt committee).  One can hear the fear and doubt when questions are raised if the church had the wrong approach in the past what makes it so correct at this time?

It is all okay.  We are human.  We will have doubt.  As soon as we have one thought, one idea, our minds tend to go in a hundred directions and most of those directions lead to some kind of doubt. I would even venture to say that this common to all of us. Of that I have no doubt!

Doubt leads to more questions and more questions. Such as; but why?  But How?  But if that then …what?  Then what??

I have two favorite answers… I don’t know and let’s find out together!  Where is God leading us? I don’t know. Let’s find out together.

Oh, oh if the pastor doesn’t know…

Doubt and questioning are normal parts of our lives as people of faith.

When we acknowledge that reality in our lives and in our teaching, we give permission for exploration and growth

We become empowered to claim our own journeys. To shape and plan a bright new future for the church, for our communities, for the world.

“So often in church we talk about faith and that is a powerful thing to talk about, but to not claim the flip side of faith, the perpetual travelling companion of faith -- doubt -- means we are not leaving room for the real-life experiences of people. Even the most faithful have moments of doubt.”

There is a saying that “God never gives us more than we can handle. I just wish God didn’t have such faith in me.” It’s a common saying and yet there is a cry of doubt in handling things all on our own. Yet when we look back on such instances in our lives we realize we really are not alone in the journey.

In this passage today Jesus is telling his detractors exactly who he is.  That he is of God, one with God and those who have chosen to follow him know this.  Jesus says my disciples know me. He is doing it the language that he used in the parable of the good shepherd.  He is saying in the language and metaphor of the time. In spite of the continued questioning, in spite of how frustrating the doubters may be Jesus answers them. Jesus gives them proof once again. Knowing this may not change their hearts but it will change and move hearts through the generations.

Jesus again uses the imagery of a thief coming to steal the flock.  Someone trying to lead them astray, coming into lead them away, lead them towards harm. But He also offers reassurance in this passage for he reassures that his flock is protected by one more powerful than the thief. Jesus is basically saying I know who you guys are, pretending to ask questions of my authority only in an attempt to build up your own authority. But I and mine stand against your powers and my sheep are protected by me.

No Matter what we may go through. No matter what may be thrown at us we persevere in faith through our doubts and fears.

I know some of us have had hard times. I know some of us have been tested by disease and lost loved ones. I know some of us have suffered through addiction and known loss. I know at times some of us may not have felt protected from loved ones who abuse or belittle them.

This is how we are called to bring the Gospel message of peace and grace. This is the place into which we are called to bring a word of hope. This is how We are called to help folks hear the voice of the shepherd and to follow him in their lives.

You see in-spite of all this pain and anguish.  In-spite of fear and doubt we are still here. We are not alone in our pain and anguish.

Walter Bruggeman speaking of the world reminds us…

“…There is considerable anguish among us.  The loss produces fear and anxiety, very often anger, sometimes hate, and violence. We now live in a society of resentment and alienation in which the greed to get a full share while there are still shares available, and neighbors are seen as rivals, competitors or threats. Or instead of facing the reality of the anguish, we divert our energy to the chase for more commodities…”  You know he who has the most toys wins.

But we are the ones who have been “baptized in the Gospel who now participate in the anguish in a different way, in a way that is healing, transformative, generative, and hospitable.”

We as Christians who have been through and live through fear and doubt and anguish that is filtered through the love of Christ comes a new way of being, new ways of seeing.

“instead of refusing the “the other” – gays, immigrants, Muslims, - as threats, we take them as neighbors.
Instead of greedy economics that serve our privilege, where all the others, especially prisoners and the disabled, are treated with dignity.
Instead of environmental self-indulgences that pollutes and destroys, we are committed to ecological responsibility, to accept discipline, limit, and regulation, even if they inconvenience us and lead to a revised standard of living.
Instead of strident nationalism, we take seriously the community of nations, knowing peace and justice is a shared task that requires participation rather than domination.”

It is our pain and struggles, our doubts and fears, that have slowly moved the church into these areas.  It is through doubts and questions we can learn and grow and continue to discover what it means to be Christian in a world that is always changing and growing around us.

We can be present to our anguish our doubts and fears in generative ways and seek out new God-given ways of living abundantly into our ministries.

Today we can look at the ministries we have and ask, boldly ask, can they be bigger?  Can they be reimagined into something brighter, more beautiful that serves the world around us in exciting new ways.

We can ask what more can we do, where are we being called to grow?  Yes, there will be fear and doubt, anguish and pain, but that is what we are called to.  We are called to step boldly into the fear, the pain and the suffering because on the other side of it is a bright Easter morning.