Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd”

         Have you ever thought for a bit about what the Gospel writer is claiming about Jesus today
—have you thought about what it means that Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd!”
What does it mean that Jesus says “I AM”? 
What does it mean that he is Good? 
What does it mean that he’s a shepherd? 
And of course, we’re not just throwing up an abstract concept on a blackboard here, what does it mean for each of us, for me and (deacon) and for little Luchiano, who we are about to baptize?
         What does it mean that Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd”?

What does it mean that Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd”?
         When Jesus says “I Am”which happens frequently in John’s Gospel—he’s saying a lot more than those two tiny words would indicate
—he’s pointing back in scripture to the answer God gave to Moses when Moses asked, “Who should I say is sending me?” Essentially, “What’s your name?” 
To which God responds, “I AM that I AM!”
         God is the only being who can say “I am” and type a period at the end of that sentence.
I need to say, “I am … because of my mom and dad, and my doctors and teachers and pastors and coaches and professors and parishioners and… so on.” Right, there is a whole line of contingency and connection that has led me to be who I am…
But this God of ours, the one who answered Moses, “I AM that I AM” is
the start from which everything springs,
the center of which all that is, seen and unseen, swirls around on account of God’s gravitational pull.

         The Great I AM is the one from whom all good comes.
The Great I AM gives this universe both dynamism and stability
—we can change, and yet there are universal standards upon which change can occur
—we can evolve, and our subatomic particles or quarks or strings or whatever word we want to use to describe the smallest part of a thing
—they don’t randomly part ways or wink out of existence
—because the Great I AM, holds it all in solid but open hands.
And here we have, throughout John’s Gospel—Jesus Identified as the Great I AM.
As we were talking about in Bible Study on Thursday, there is a whole school of thought in the Old Testament that believe observing the world can help us get a glimpse of God’s nature
—creation itself a canvas that says something about the creator…
well, John is saying something even more miraculous
—seeing Jesus, we can see the Great I AM.

What does it mean that Jesus is said to be “Good”?
Jesus is neither hired hand nor wolf.
A hired hand does not own the sheep
—there isn’t that intimate connection between sheep and shepherd
… when things go bad the hired hand won’t claim their beloved sheep
—no the hired hand will abandon, will act the coward, ultimately will not care…
Will not care when wolves come—grizzly maw wiped with blood—terrifying presence—sent to scatter and devour the sheep…

What’s that even mean?What does it mean to be scattered…
scattered people, scattered churches, scattered souls…
Have you ever been scattered?You were so distracted you entered a room… only to have no clue why you were there?
Or in the car thinking so far into the future you don’t notice you don’t have the right of way…
Have you ever been scattered?So often seemingly small things can scatter a congregation or a Church, distrust can be sewn over stupid simple stuff.
Have you ever been scattered?Sometimes it feels like our society is training us not to be a society—but instead an anti-social bunch, tribal, suspicious, and skeptical of everyone all the time.
What does it mean to be scattered—well, I think that’s an appropriate description of Sin—That which separates us from God or neighbor
—that which breaks relationship
—that is Sin, and I fear if we trust hired hands we will be consumed by sin.

But friends, we can trust Jesus Christ… he loves us! He loves us so much that he will lay down his life for us
—as we see in John’s Gospel not one disciples is taken when he hands himself over to the police at the garden of gethsemane…
He sees Sin, that wolf, coming and does not allow his sheep to be consumed by it, but instead he is consumed by the cross on our behalf.
Not only that, we can trust him to take up again that life of his. He rises from the dead, that we may follow. 
He is taken up again and ascends to the I AM, that we all have access to the I AM as a loving parent… he takes up his life again that we might have life with him on account of being baptized in him.

What does it mean that Jesus is the “Shepherd”?
The Shepherd of the sheep
—critters that from the most ancient of times have been used to describe the subjects of a king
…living among smelly critters that head butt
… critters that from a distance you can’t distinguish from Goats
… critters that seem to be most in their element in a group, not alone, for when they are alone they are lost…
Well—if we share characteristics with sheep… then, I suppose, we’re ambiguous to our core—saint and sinner simultaneously
we have a propensity to wound, even our shepherd…
we are not meant to go through this all alone, without community…
It also means our shepherd lays claim to us in a fundamental way.
         He gathers us from far and wide. His voice calls us in, from every corner of the earth
… continually calling us, this Shepherd, who knows us and we know him
—who is connected to us like blood to a vein,
love letter to the beloved,
sun to heat.
One flock, one Shepherd.

         And Luchiano, you’ve been in need of both stability and change… (RIFF)
I’m sure you will face that scattering that wolves bring and hired hands cannot handle…
I’m sure you will yearn for community in times of isolation…
In baptism you will be gathered into the community of Christ,
gathered in from Sin despite all scattering,
weaved into the fabric of the Weaver, the Great I Am, whose face we find in Jesus.
         Luchiano, know that Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” That Jesus is the I Am, Jesus is Good, Jesus is ourShepherd, your Shepherd.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon 1 John 3

         Sometimes it hurts just to open the newspaper, or turn on the TV, or even ask a neighbor or relative or friend how they are doing…
-       A convergence of countries fighting and meddling in Syria with unclear goals and objectives the likes of which we have not seen since the Crimean War.
-       Chemical attacks in Syria, the likes of which we have not seen since the First World War.
-       The greatest refugee crisis since the end of the 2nd world war, yet last year less than 30,000 refugees were resettled here in America… Half the population of Syria, the center of the refugee crisis, currently displaced, yet we’ve only taken in 11 Syrian refugees in the first 4 months of this year.
-       Tensions rising between global nuclear powers, the United States and Russia raddling saber as would suit a new cold war or God forbid a Hot War of annihilation.
And were it only wars and rumors of war, that would be one thing, but we humans… we contain multitudes.
-Social media, intended to connect people all across the world, being used to create suspicion between neighbors and sew fear among friends.
-Slashed safety nets,
-isolation and mourning,
-Intergenerational antagonism,
-unaddressed griefs and grievances,
-Deeply damaging miscommunication,
-The anxiety of stepping into an unknown future…

it is enough to make you feel like you are on your own, and out of luck, and that the other guy is out to get you…
or at least someone is…

         Sometimes, I just wish I could be like the Apostles! I wish I could heal like the Apostles. I wish I could proclaim like the Apostles.
-Reconnect the severed fibers of our national life,
-re-introduce relatives and neighbors and friends to each other,
-beat swords into plowshares, tanks into tractors, guns into gardens and bullets into seeds to feed the world…
-use the chlorine they gassed folk with to clean up a giant pool where we can hold a swim party in Syria and everyone involved can just talk their problems out.

… I wish I could be like the Apostles, saying “Silver and gold have I none, but I can heal you in the name of Jesus”
and then tell everyone about Jesus and the wonders of his love
—tell his whole story, tell the gospel and have it accompany healing like we see in the Acts of the Apostles today…

… or maybe…
maybe I don’t want to be like the Apostles…
heal and proclaim like them…
after all, there are consequences for their actions
—they are rejected by their religious leaders,
kicked out of where they worship,
jailed, beaten, stoned, killed…
all for healing and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord…
If I was to be like the apostles…
-I suppose I’d be gassed just the same as anyone else,
-Called too political or naïve or a dupe or a traitor if I spoke for peace,
-Branded a meddler or hypocrite for trying to mend broken relationships.
… yes there are consequences for healing in Jesus name and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord
living out the faith, following after Jesus… has consequences…

         And that shouldn’t surprise us, as 1st John says, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
          Look where our Lord ended up for healing, forgiving sins, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near…
-he was called a law breaker and a drunken glutton,
-chased out of his home town,
-abandoned, betrayed, arrested, killed
no, the world could not know Jesus as the Messiah—the Christ—the Kingdom of God come near
—and neither can it know Jesus’ disciples, those who work in the Kingdom even as they reside in the world
—the Children of God are hidden from the World, even, perhaps, from themselves…

         And yet… and yet we will be known, we will be revealed.
As we read in 1st John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
         When the world does see Christ, we will be revealed as like Christ, as Children of God.
         Oh, we are so often blinded by the world ourselves, so much a part of the world, that it is the Spirit alone who can give us glimpses of what God is up to in our lives…
but we anticipate a much greater revealing
—that what once was seen in a mirror darkly,
what once we had to squint to see
—shall be revealed as Jesus was, is, and will be revealed, as Christ.
         I think that’s what holds it all together for us—this hope.
         I think that’s what held it all together for those disciples as they healed and preached—this hope!
Sure, the good works of Christ and the Spirit
—the Resurrection and the New Life we find in our Risen Lord
—all of that is shrouded, unknown to the world… the world which operates with rules of its own that run roughshod over the calling of Christ…
Sure, it is far from obvious,
those echoes of Easter still among us
Sure, in black and white the newspaper bleeds red
Surebut the Goodness of Christ will be revealed!

-Jesus Christ, who was born to a lowly and frightened peasant girl
—gives us a hope that the Lowly will be lifted up and we will “Be not afraid.”

-Jesus Christ, who healed the sick even when it meant sacrifice on his part
—gives us a hope that all sickness, all suffering, ailments of any sort, will be healed!

-Jesus Christ, who forgave sins, even when religious folk said, “stop it”
—gives us a hope that there truly is forgiveness of all our sins, and with it redemption and life!

-Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God in his very presence
—gives us the hope that God’s Children will be revealed, and that the Kingdom will come.

         It is with this hope that we follow after Jesus, as did those Apostles.
         It is with this hope that we heal in Jesus name and proclaim him Lord of all
—despite consequences, in the face of a tense, torn up, war-like world that does not know him and cannot see God’s work and will in the lives of God’s Children.
         In the face of all that,
still hope!
Always hope!


Saturday, April 07, 2018

Review of "What Are We Doing Here?" by Marilynne Robinson

What Are We Doing Here?What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to give this book 5 stars--it is well worth reading, full stop... but it is mainly a series of lectures, and as such it becomes repetitive (I read most of the book in 2 sittings on an airplane).
What follows are the major themes that are continually touched on an weaved together is beautiful ways.
-We choose not to know much about Puritans, who shaped our world in incredibly important ways that we ought to investigate.
-We ignore the connections between the American Revolution and the reign of Oliver Cromwell at our peril (in fact O.C. may explain the red state blue state divide).
-The gaps in knowledge in modern America is like the gap between matter and dark matter.
-Conservative Christianity violates many of the tenets of Christianity.
-Aesthetic is a valuable ethical norm.
-When science is reductionist it debases humanity, especially when popular science is an excuse for obliterating the idea of conscience.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Sermon

          In John’s Gospel Mary arrives alone, she alone is the first to see the good news, first to see the stone slid away, first too to tell of this marvelous thing…
          But, I don’t think she saw the marvel yet, instead it was just one more thing. One more sign of death and defeat.
          The pious and the powerful killed her Lord and Friend and now they pushed for one more indignity—a desecrated tomb…
          So she goes and tells Peter, and he and the other disciple run off and leave her, a foot race more meaningful—it seems--than comforting a sister, comforting Mary…
          Ouch… just another twist of the knife, another reminder that she’s without him… 
without him the community doesn’t care for each other… without him… without him…
          She follows after, and arrives in time for the two disciples to head back home… and there she is, YET AGAIN!, alone outside an abandoned grave…. 
It’s enough to make you cry... He’s been taken, 
he’s been taken, 
he’s been taken… 
“Why are you weeping?” the angels ask
          “He’s been taken.”
“Why are you weeping?” Jesus asks.
          “He’s been taken.”
          But then, her name… 
the voice… 
the man was not the gardener
—that man was no man, that was her Teacher, that man was Jesus!
          And with that, she returns yet again to her fellow disciples, she becomes the Apostle to the Apostles, the first herald of the resurrection, her lips the first lips to launch the Gospel—the first messenger of Easter!

          Then there is the mysterious beloved disciple
—who is often identified with Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who Jesus brought back to life
—this Beloved Disciple, is already filled with hope, perhaps because he’s already seen the other side and knows that Jesus is Lord of Life, and Death shall not hold sway over him…
          Yes, this hope is the engine that vaults him passed Peter, arriving first.
          This hope in new life through Jesus is the stuff that makes him see and believe
—he is able to look at an empty tomb and folded napkin and trust that they are signs of resurrection.
          This hope allows him to return home, satisfied.

          As upheld by hope as the beloved disciple was, Peter was weighed down with guilt
--he had denied Jesus three times, and that experience holds him down just as Lazarus’ experience of leaving the tomb lifted him up.
          Peter is 2nd in this race with the Beloved Disciple to the Tomb. He’s the first to look in and see, but his guilt keeps his eyes from seeing and believing
—keeps him from taking the empty tomb to mean resurrection.
          His eyes are still closed, he leaves heavier than he came
—heavier until that last moment, when Mary proclaims to him this thing that he saw without seeing—
“I have seen the Lord.”

          Three different experiences of the risen Christ. 
-Mary keeping on keeping on, checking on the body, doing the work that must be done despite the cloud of sorrow that had swallowed her up
—the fog of grief, 
the tears of weeping
—from this solid sorrow… 
Joy, sweet and strong, springs into her life.
-Peter, racked with guilt, unable to see the most momentous occasion in human history
—but then when it is spoken to him by Mary, and even more so when Jesus speaks to him a few weeks later
forgiveness is assure, this guilt is taken away.
-The Beloved Disciple, living in hopeful anticipation, that all dear Jesus had said will come to pass, finds that trust he had given to Jesus confirmed, strengthened by simple signs there.
          Three ways the resurrection, Easter, touched them, made them whole, ushered them into the ages of ages, even life eternal.
          Hopefully their testimonies from so long ago can still help us today… 
help us read our own story, 
tell our own story, 
in such a way that we see how the life given to us by Jesus, the resurrected life we continue to share with him, shapes our story.

-         Like the Beloved Disciple, we can look at our life and ask, “What are my deepest hopes?”
-         Like Peter, we can look at our story and ask, “What holds me down with guilt?”
-         Like Mary, we can be honest, and respond to the question, “What are the sorrows in my life?”
          We can also ask,
“How am I keeping on keeping on?”
“How have I found Gospel in that?”
“Who needs to hear the Gospel?”
“How can I announce ‘I have seen the Lord!’?”

          And like these earliest of Christians, Jesus is here for us with new life, with forgiveness, joy, affirmation of your faith
—your story is and can be… undergirded, soaked, held fast, interweaved… with new life.
          Each one of you here today, everyone within the sound of my voice
—you each have a story of resurrection to tell, to experience, to anticipate, to hope for, to find your footing upon, to put your trust in.

          Kenneth and Keith—you will be more fully joined to that story today through your baptism—entering into Christ’s death and resurrection through the waters of baptism.
Your life will be forever different
—set on a pathway that promise life eternal,
 a path of discipleship
—following after Jesus Christ.
          A pathway containing low points of sorrow and guilt, yes, 
but also paved in hope, joy, and forgiveness… maybe even that you might speak as Mary spoke, “I have seen the Lord.”

         And that’s what I pray for all of us today
-Sorrow turned to Joy
-Guilt giving way to forgiveness
-Hope attained.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Friday, March 30, 2018

John 18:1-19:42

            Then Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden. He and his disciples went in.
            Judas, his betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus and the disciples often met there.

            So, Judas brought a band of soldiers along with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

            Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Who are you looking for?"
            They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth."
            Jesus stated, "I am."
            Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.
            When Jesus said to them, "I am," they stepped back and fell to the ground.

            Jesus repeated his question, "Whom are you looking for?"
            And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth."
            "I told you,” Jesus answered, “ I am. So if you are looking for me, let these men go."
            (He said this to fulfill the words that he had spoke, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.")
            Then Simon Peter had a sword. He drew it, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
            "Put your sword back into its sheath,” Jesus said to Peter, “Do you imagine I am not going to drink the cup my father has given me?”

            So the soldiers, their officer, and the Judean police, arrested Jesus and bound him.
First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Judeans that it was better to have one person die for the people.

            Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. The other disciple was known to the high priest; he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
            The woman at the gate spoke to Peter:
            “You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?"
            He replied, "I am, not."
            It was cold. The slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

            Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.
            "I have spoken openly to the world,” was Jesus’ reply, “I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Judeans come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why are you asking me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said."
            When Jesus said this, one of the police standing nearby slapped him on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?"
            "If I have spoken wrongly,” Jesus answered, “testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"
            Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

            Meanwhile, Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?"
            He denied it saying, "No, I am not."
            One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, spoke up, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?"
            Again Peter denied it, and instantly the cock crowed.

            Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, where the governor was stationed. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the Praetorium, because they were anxious not to become ritually unclean, and unable to eat the Passover meal.
            So Pilate went outside to ask, "What accusation do you bring against this man?"
            “If he wasn’t wicked,” they replied, “we wouldn’t be handing him over to you.”

            “Then take him yourselves and judge him by your law,” Pilate replied to them.
            “We are not allowed to put anyone to death,” the Religious Leaders replied (This was so that the word of Jesus might come true, when he had indicated what sort of death he was going to die.)
            So Pilate re-entered the Praetorium, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
            “Was it your idea to ask that?” Jesus responded, “or did others tell you about me?"
            “I am not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied, “Your own people, and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"
            Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. Clearly, my kingdom is not that sort of kingdom.”

            “So!” Pilate said, "you are a king?"
            Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
            “What is truth?” Pilate asked him.

            With those words, he went back out to the Crowd, who had gathered, and told them, "You have no case, he is not guilty. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you ‘The King of the Jews’?"
            “Not this man,” they shouted in reply, "No, give us Barabbas!" (Barabbas was an insurgent.)

            So Pilate re-entered the Praetorium. There he took Jesus and had him flogged.
            The soldiers wove a crown of thorns, put it on his head, and dressed him up in a purple robe. They would approach him, announcing, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and then strike him on the face.

            Pilate went out yet again, "Look,” he said, “I am bringing him out to you, so that you will know that I still find no case against him, he’s without guilt.”
            So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.
            “Behold!” Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"
            When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
            Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find him not guilty."

            They answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he claimed to be the Son of God."

            Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He re-entered the Praetorium and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?"
            Jesus gave him no answer, so Pilate said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?"
            "You would have no power over me,” Jesus replied, “unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
            From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the crowd cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."

            When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat on the judge's bench,

The bench called “The Stone Pavement” (or in the Hebrew, Gabbatha).
            It was about noon on the day of Preparation for the Passover. “Look,” said Pilate, "Here is your King!"

            They cried out: “Away with him! Away with him!” and “Crucify him!"
            Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?"
            The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor."

            Then he handed him over to them to be crucified and they took Jesus away.

            Jesus carried his own cross

and he went out to what is called “The Place of the Skull,” (or in the Hebrew, Golgotha), that was where they crucified him. They also crucified two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
            Pilate also had a notice written and put on the cross.
            Many Judeans read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

            Then the chief priests said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'"
            “What I have written I have written,” Pilate answered.
            When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic, which was made of a single piece of cloth. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but diced for it, to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they decide with dice."
            And that is what the soldiers did.
            Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
            Jesus saw his mother and beside her, the disciple whom he loved.
            “Mother,” he said to her, “here is your son."
            Then he spoke to the disciple.
            "Here is your mother."
            From that hour the disciple welcomed Mary into his own home.

            After this, when Jesus knew that all was completed, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty."
            A jar full of sour wine was standing nearby, so they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
            Jesus drank it, and then said, "It is finished."
            Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

            It was the day of Preparation. The coming Sabbath was an especially solemn and sensitive one, so the Judeans did not want the bodies left on the cross during that time. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.
            The soldiers came and broke the legs of the men who were crucified with Jesus, first the one, then the other. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead. They did not break his legs.

            Instead, one of the soldiers thrust a spear into his side, and at once blood and water came out.

(He who saw this has testified truthfully. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth, so that you too may believe.)
            These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken."
            And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
            After all this, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Religious Authorities.
            Pilate gave him permission; so he came and took his body.
            Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, came too. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

They took Jesus’ body and wrapped it with spiced cloth, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
            Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. So, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.