Sunday, September 16, 2018

Blessing and Cursing

Blessing and Cursing

            “From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.”
            Isn’t that always the way? 
Yes, a small fire warms the soul, but the moment it gets out of control—a forest fire.
            Or thinking of the storms these days, water is necessary for life, but it can easily endanger lives as well.
            The internet promises instant connection, and also makes us less and less connected with our neighbors.
Yes—"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

“From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.”
There is a grave danger, Luther reminds us in his small Catechism, that from our mouth will come all sorts of lies about our neighbors.
Lies, simply put, not telling the truth about their actions—bearing false witness.
Or slandering them and destroying their reputation by lying about their character and conduct.
Or betrayal—making a promise to them with no intention of following through.
            Instead we ought to use our lips to defend them against the lies of others.
            We ought to speak well of our neighbor, and that means interpreting their actions in the best possible light…
            Don’t we all wish the same for ourselves?

            “From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.”
            As the school year starts back up, Sunday school too, it is worth remembering that we can use our mouths for teaching.
            And yes there is a danger to teaching
—there are two sides to it as well, right
—when we’re considered the expert, or at least the person a little further along in our understanding and skills—it is important that we get it right, or if we don’t know how to do that we say “I don’t know.” Imagine that, admitting the limits of your knowledge—if only humility was commonly practiced by humanity!

            When we don’t do this, especially when religious leaders don’t do this, we create falsescandals… what do I mean by a false scandal? Our faith is scandalous, as Peter points out today, a Messiah who suffers, is rejected by religious leaders and killed—yes truly that isscandalous…
but when we misused our mouth—when we don’t know what we’re talking about, and still keep talking, we can cause trauma and terror, and vex the consciousness of our children and all those who we seek to pass the faith on to…
            For example, many are told by their religious leaders that you have to pick between religion and science… there are so many resources out there to help folk wrestle with the tension between the two, science and religion, written by Bishops and Biologists, some who are both…but when religious folk refuse to investigate and instead just encourage their flock to put away their biology text books and focus on Genesis, they are setting them up for failure.
            Or those religious leaders back in 2007, I know I keep harping on them, they had parishioners come in with loan offers, and instead of inspecting them and helping them figure out if they could afford the loans, or even better, telling them “that’s not my area of expertise” instead they simply told them that their religious faith had finally paid off and asked for 10% of the loan to go to the church—when everything went south during the economic collapse these folk all lost their faith, left Christianity.
            I’ve even heard of religious leaders who tell people recovering from addiction that their cravings will go away, that detox won’t be painful and hard, if they just pray about it some… then when these folk, left on their own, relapse, and their faith is injured, often beyond repair.

            Yes, the responsibility of teaching, especially teaching the faith, is enormous
—yet right teaching of the Gospel sustains a weary world… 
            It even… no… it especially, sustains the teacher…
telling that old old story,
being curious about it again,
learning it again,
firming it up,
firms up our faith every time we speak it,
pass it on…
it is sustenance for the soul…
it is confession itself
—an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
            Answering that question
…perhaps it is the highest calling, the best use of our mouth, the ultimate blessingwhich we might speak.
            “Who do you say that I am?”
            Answered by Peter, getting ahead of himself—he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, then backs up when he realizes what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. 
He grows into his answer.
He stumbles forward and backward into it, continuing to learn and grow in understanding, even as he grows into a leader of the early church.
            This last week in one of the Bible Studies we’re doing, “Making Sense of the Cross,” we wrestled with there being 4 gospels, four stories of the faith
—and one of the lenses we used was to think of it was confession—that each Gospel is a distinct confession, a distinct answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
-To Mark, just get the story out before you run out of breath,
-to Luke Jesus the good physician,
-to Matthew another Moses,
-to John the I AM.
            And so too with the three historical creeds—the Apostles, Nicaean, and Athanasian creeds—each a confession, an answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?”

            And so too throughout history:
            “Who do you say that I am, Augustine?” The restless find rest in you.
            “Who do you say that I am, Julian?” Because of you I know that all shall be well!
            “Who do you say that I am Luther?” You’re the one who redeemed me, the one I can trust, a mighty fortress.
            “Who do you say that I am Thurman?” When folk have their backs against the wall, you’re there with us.

            And so too today—that same question is put before us—it is called forth from our lips, our mouths prone to curses called to bless are called, despite their frailty, to confess… today, we are asked by Jesus Christ, “Who do you say that I am?”

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Sermon: More Than Crumbs 2

More Than Crumbs

         He’d fed 5,000+ people with a few fish and some bread, he’d dealt with the fallout from that feeding—a sparring contest about tradition between him and the authorities from Jerusalem—they’d had a food fight about how to eat in a holy way and who was welcome and what was on the menu.
         Jesus refused to let them settle for crumbs
—he refused to let holiness be defined by external actions,
refused to bar people from table, and instead extended and expanded the table
—Jesus offers more than crumbs…
         Jesus offers more than crumbs…
         Sometimes I think Jesus is an introvert—he so often sneaks away from the crowd and the controversy for time alone.
In this case, he escapes to Tyre, a gentile city, far, at least ideologically, from the food fight he had just fought…
         But once there, he is forced quite quickly to consider again the ways in which he is widening the table, feeding with more than crumbs, offering a feast instead!
         He goes to this strange place, and is stopped by this strange woman
—she is culturally Hellenistic, he’s culturally Jewish,
she speaks Greek,
his first language is likely Aramaic,
she lives in the land of the Phoeniciansnow part of Roman Syria,
he is from the land of the tribe Naphtalinow Galilee, occupied by Rome.
         And yet her situation—her daughter possessed by forces beyond her control, she finds herself in the same situation that Jesus had just left back home
—folk fed crumbs,
people separated from holiness,
unclean and captured…
         The five thousand had followed him because he offered healing, holiness, and freedom.
The religious leaders had attacked him because they were chasing past holiness
—and now this, this little girl separatedfrom holiness, separatedfrom God…
         (And just so you know, that’s a classical description of hell—not pitch folks and fire… but separation from God)
         And the icky thing here is that Jesus initiallywidens this separation—he says, in effect, wait your turn… 
         More than that, he uses a common slur for non-Jewish people at the time—“Should I feed the dogsbefore I feed the children?”
         There is a plan, there is a timeline
—God’s Kingdom comes first to the Jews, and then spills over, trickle down holiness
         But she overturns this timeline, there is an immediateneed,
propriety be damned,
“even dogs get the scraps!”
         It hurts, she’s shaming our Savior! She’s turning over the time table
—the only other time I can think that this happens is when Jesus’ mother insists he does a miracle at the wedding in Cana even though he says he’s not ready…
         Isn’t that how it happens? Every soldier can quote that truism by von Moltke, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
         So too, the battle plans of the Kingdom of God, the expanding of holiness, like a water balloon, hits a sharp spot
—Sin oppressing a little child—
and God’s plan bursts open, grace everywhere, overflowing! This child, not a dog, a little childoppressed by Sin—is saved. Jesus is not hording crumbs, he is offering more than crumbs—the very bread of life!

         This whole situation reminds me of the start of Doctor King’s ministry in Montgomery,
E.D. Nixon a member of the local N.A.A.C.P. had bailed Rosa Parks out of jail and, at 5am, he called up the new Pastor in town and asked him if he would lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
King responded that he’d think about it… making any big decision before morning coffee is a bad idea.
So then around 6am Nixon called King’s best friend Ralph Abernathy, who also called King.
Then by 7am Nixon called King again, and he reluctantly said yes, to which Nixon responded, “Well that’s a good thing, I’ve already told 18 church leaders we’re meeting in the basement of your church, and it would have been kinda bad if you weren’t there at the meeting…”
         Sometimes things get out of order, sometimes plans need to be re-ordered
—sometimes even the best of people need a little push to put them on the path to which God is calling them
—sometimes these little Epiphanies, Ah Ha moments, have grand results
—when that happens all we can do is thank God for that!

         And, judging by Jesus’ actions after this healing in Tyre, he had an Ah ha! Moment.
“If,” I’d imagine our savior thought, “If I’m going around feeding multitudes as a sign of God’s grace—if there is enough for everyone…. Then there in fact is enough for EVERYONE, whether in Capernaum or Tyre or anywhere else.
         After this realization Jesus heads back close to home, but not quite home, he goes to the 10 Gentile cities—the Decapolis—and, like the crowd in Capernaum and like the lady whose daughter he’d exorcised, a man is brought to him
—have you ever noticed how often in the gospels a community brings a person to Jesus to be healed.
         In the ancient world health and a person’s relationship to God….
And health and a person’s relationship to their community was directly linked…
not too different from today really
just get sick and you’ll quickly see who your real friends are
—so there is something beautiful in all these stories where people bring sick folk to Jesus—they’re restoring the person to community even as Jesus’ healing will do the same…
Don’t you wonder how you can bring people to Jesus?—restore their relationships? Reconnect them to community?

         And Jesus does this weird wet willy thing, and returns this man’s ability to communicate… and by healing him returns him to community and to relationship with God.
Jesus gives him more than crumbs, he gives him healing and wholeness and return to relationship with everyone around him… what a feast.

         And all these non-Jews at the Decapolis see the healing and are asimpressed with Jesus as the 5,000+ who he’d fed. “He has done everything well!”
         Jesus has gone from his Ah ha moment to action
—following through on the promise of the bread of life
—the promise of the grace and abundance found in his heavenly Father.
         Just as in America, where we read in the words of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We’ve come to say, “Well, shoot, not just property holding men, not just white men, not just men, not just people 21 and older,” as we continue to grow (in fits and starts, to say the very least—God help us) continue to grow into the promise present at our founding… 
so too, we find the promises and hopes of God,
that God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
that God offers abundance,
that God looks at us and says, “It is good.”
we find those hopes and promises expanding out
—no one left with crumbs, everyone, all of creation, given more than crumbs, given the very body and blood of God-with-us, Jesus Christ—a feast that is surely more than crumbs.

He leads us, to not make the start of our relationship with him the ending as well.
He leads whole communities to care for hurting folk, to bring them to him.
He leads us to live beyond our current understanding of him.
He leads us to the glory and the depth of God’s promises.
He leads us to lean past the plans we have.
He leads us from separation to health.

He leads us from crumbs to a bountiful banquet…
He leads us to an abundant feast!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sermon: More than crumbs

More than crumbs

         They had heard that this man healed, that this Galilean taught with authority, that he had gained a following, and in fact had fed 5,000+ of them with a few loaves and fishes.
         And so these religious elites from Jerusalem came to check him out—see if the stories were true, if the hype was real…
         They came to see if Jesus was offering more than crumbs… more than crumbs.
         Let us pray

         These religious folk from Jerusalem were wondering if Jesus was offering more than crumbs—though they wondered that aloud in the form of an accusation
—Jesus’ followers weren’t following the rules—they were not washing their hands with a fist full of water before they ate. They weren’t following the tradition of the elders…
         You see, some 600 years before Jesus’ day the first temple in Jerusalem was destroyed
—the center of Jewish religious life was laid waste
—you have to understand this was God’s house in a rather literal sense
—the prophet Ezekiel even describes God’s glory lifting off and leaving the temple at its destruction… it seemed God’s promises, God’s very presence among God’s people—had ended

And from the ashes Judaism reformed itself in several ways, tried to be temple-less, asked strained and scary questions,
“What does purity look like without a location?”
“How do we remain holy without the Holy of Holies?”
“Are we still God’s chosen people, if God has chosen to leave the building?”
And one answer to these questions was a decentralization of Purity, holiness, and peoplehood. The Pharisees looked to preserve what remained of temple holiness by bringing that same holiness out into all the world
—the family table treated like an altar, the home a home for holiness, and every meal a kind of sacrifice…
And, if meals are sacrifice and tables are altars, you can see why questions of food become fundamental? You can kinda get why the 5,000 eating in a way that honors, or doesn’t honor, the temple and 600 years of tradition to a tee, could call down the wrath of the high ups from Jerusalem.
This question is a big deal—these traditions—in fact, we find many of the first fights in the church to be about food—food fights… who can eat with who, and how and what is on the menu? Fighting about the very same traditions as the Pharisees.

On one hand, holiness in every aspect of life is truly a laudable goal—I really mean that… this is why our holiness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees…
On the other hand, it feels a little like they are picking up the crumbs, the crumbled bits of temple dust, and preserving it for its own sake.

It’s a common thing to do, preserve a tradition for its own sake
—I’m sure you’ve all heard the one about the family recipe for pot roast that starts with cutting the ends of the roast off—but when you go back to its origin that step was there because the great grandma didn’t own a big enough pot… (Rocket ships—horses)
(communion rail, Mitre, Chasuble) 
(Rex, the mission developer’s dog)… That was the way it had always been done—that was the tradition of the place, you can’t have bible study without tying Rex up out front first…
         They’d been captured, however comically, by their past.

         And it is no secret that the church is often captivated by its past
—just as the Pharisees were chasing the holiness of the first Temple, we too often chase the high points of our past
—remember when there were 100 students in Sunday school, 
remember when larger society cared what we had to say about current events and sensitive subjects, 
remember when God was really active in our congregation…
         And so quickly we ignore what is right in front of our noses—we will never be satisfied and never have enough, if we don’t see what God is up to right now, providing for us right now!
         Just as the Pharisees dismissed the feast of bread and the presence of Jesus, the Church can miss our calling because we are looking backward. We grasp at crumbs when a feast awaits us.
         But sometimes tradition can blind us to much more serious problems, it can whitewash and warp holiness into death dealing abuse…
         I don’t think I’ll ever forget the interview with a priest up in Boston when the abuse and cover-up was exposed up there, as it is now being exposed out in Pennsylvania
—he was an elderly priest, who explained that he himself had been abused by a priest as a child and so when he witnessed priests abusing children as a Seminarian he started doing the same, because he thought it was part of being a priest… what a tradition to pass down…
         This isn’t even hording crumbs, it is passing off poison as bread
ruining lives,
killing communities,
slaughtering souls. 

         And Jesus doesn’t let us get away with any of it.
         Jesus doesn’t let us chase evaporating holiness held up in the cell of history, or let us delude ourselves, or peddle poisons.
         He tells it like it is, makes us look at our underbellies, doesn’t let us externalize our character in some sort of head-fake, but makes us look at our heart and our intentions…
         For we are captive to Sin with a big S, not sins plural—the human condition is such that even holy traditions can be trashed, even past experiences of God can be deeply distorted and misused.

         Where then is holiness, purity, the Kingdom of God…where is the bread of life to be found? In Jesus, the one who offered more than crumbs, from nearly nothing he provided a feast for many.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John 6

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
It was nearly time for the Passover, a Jewish festival.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming his way, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?” (He said this to test him, after all he knew what he was about to do.)
Philip answered him, “Six months’ pay wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to even get a little bit.”
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what’s that shared between so many people?”
Jesus replied, “Get everyone settled and seated.”
Now there was a great pasture in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand of them—and that’s only counting the men.
So then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; and did the exact same with the fish—all had as much as they desired.
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
So they gathered up the leftovers, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets!
When the people saw the sign that Jesus had done, they began to say aloud, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

-Luther describes our daily bread as everything that is necessary and nourishing for our life—everyone having enough… What has been especially nourishing to you recently?

-John’s description of the place where the feeding of the 5,000 occurred, a wide grassy place, a pasture reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Hold John 6 in your head as I read Psalm 23 to you:

 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
Jesus knew that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, so he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. Then, when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, embarked into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.
It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near to the boat, and they were afraid. 
“I AM,” came Jesus’ response to them, “do not be afraid.”
Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat docked on the shore of Capernaum.

-They attempt to trap him and make him king… but Jesus is not that kind of king. When have you tried to make Jesus into an idol, create a Jesus of your imagination instead of the Savior he is?

-This is the second time in John’s Gospel Jesus declares himself the “I AM.” The name God gives God’s self at the burning bush—the one who is the beginning and end, yet also before the beginning and after the end… the one who overflows all bounds we would impose upon—that one is Jesus.
The next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also noticed that Jesus had not got into that boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had set off by themselves. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread, after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they too embarked into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 
Jesus answered them, “Look, I’m telling you God’s own truth here, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for perishable food, but for the food of forever, the food that the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father’s promises are sealed.”
Then they said to Jesus, “What can we do to perform the works of God?”
“This is the work of God,” he answered them, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 
“Well then,” they said to him, “What sign are you going to do for us, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you doing? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness; it says in the bible, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 
“Listen to what I’m about to say,” Jesus responded, “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, no it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 
They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 
Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
“But I told you all that already,” Jesus continued, “you have even seen it, seen me. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

-Can you hear them being drawn into the life Jesus offers to them? When they say “Lord, give us this bread” they are naming their need, and that they find it fulfilled by Jesus…
What do you need this day? How might that need draw you near to Jesus?

-It is amazing when we catch glimpses of God’s grace, sure there are a plethora of immediate causes for those things which fulfill us, but sometimes we can see, or at least trust, that their ultimate cause is God.

Then the Religious Leaders began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 
They were saying, “Is not this man Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 
Jesus answered them, “Don’t grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in Isaiah, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; I have seen the Father. 
Listen carefully to what I say to you now, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I AM the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

-The 6th chapter of John closely mirrors the exodus story—just as they grumbled in the wilderness escaping slavery in Egypt, so too folk grumble at Jesus…
How are you grumbling today? What’s making you grumble?

-Jesus is so much more than a man, in John’s gospel we are allowed a back stage pass to see the God who is the transcendent I AM in Jesus—see how the Great I AM continually reaches out to us.

Jesus came to teach at his home synagogue at Capernaum, but when he arrived his fellow Jews were squabbling with each other about his teachings, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Here’s what I am saying to you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who feast upon my flesh and imbibe my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds upon flesh and imbibes my blood abides in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live within the Father, so whoever feasts on me will live within me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 

-Jesus comes to worship in his local congregation, and offers up a feast, reveals the feast already present in his presence, a True and Living meal.
Today, here in worship at your local congregation, where have you or will you find that feast?

-John’s most consistent description of God’s relationship to Jesus and Jesus’ relationship to us is abiding, the Son abides with the Father, Jesus came so that we might abide with him… abiding—sometimes we miss how physical that is, it is a child laying on his mother’s breast, close to meal and close to heart beat and close to the source of life… may we abide within Jesus as he abides within his Father.

When many of his disciples heard it, they too complained, “His teaching grows unpleasant; who can continue in it?”
But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does my teaching scandalize you? What are you going to do when you see the Son of Man returning to the Father? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit, they are life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”
Jesus said this because he knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
“That’s why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father,” he said.
In response, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to leave me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus answered them, “Didn’t I choose the twelves of you? Yet one of you is a slanderer.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

-Jesus scandalized those who followed him, what about Jesus Christ’s life and message scandalizes you?

-“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal life.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Letter to the Holy Ones (all four stitched together as one letter)

I write this letter to you as a follower and witness of Jesus Christ.
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Christ.
              I have heard there is a practice among you of reflecting on what you are thankful for before you receive the Holy Meal. It is in that same vein that I write this letter to you—surely the letter to the Holy Ones in Ephesus was a letter of thanksgiving, so is this.

I thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us beyond measure.
I thank God, that in the beginning, before the beginning, Christ was with God, holy and perfect, beloved from the start, and we are found in that love too!
I thank God, that we are the Savior’s siblings—that gives God pleasure—to be Parent of an uncountable plethora of children!
I thank God, that we who were caged up by Sin with a big S, have been bought out and brought out of captivity by God’s Beloved Boy, forgiven for everything, every last fault, failure, and foible—because God is gracious, God is generous with all his gifts.
I thank God, that the unthinkable has been thought, the great mystery revealed, that not only are we found in Christ, all of creation, from the tiniest quark and string of matter out beyond the reach of the universe in all its iterations—all of it is being gathered in God’s loving arms.
I thank God, that through Christ, who is always our hope, you have been weaved into God’s will, and live to praise him!
I thank God, that you’ve heard the good news and that you trust Jesus.
I thank God, that you’ve been marked with the promised Holy Spirit, she is your adoption papers, pointing to your redemption, that you are God’s own people—such a thing glorifies God!

I thank God unceasingly for all of you holy ones, and I pray incessantly for you all. I pray that you might more completely know the Lord, that the eyes of your heart might be wide open and you will be awake to the fullness of faith, which is Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and rule.
I thank God that all who claim power: be they earthly rulers, -isms and ideologies of all sorts, fates, follies, habits, addictions, and even demons—that their kingdoms are done
—the Kingdom of God, the Rule of Heaven, is everywhere and always! We holy ones who gather together, who are Christ’s body, do we not pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”? I thank God that it is and shall be so!
I thank God, for the life you now live, for at one time you were under the deadly powers of all those vicious things that defy God, but through God’s rich mercy and great love, even the death of Christ, you now live—raised with him, even seated with him, so all of creation might fully understand the extravagant kindness found in Christ.
I thank God, you are saved by grace through faith, not on account of your own gifts, but by the gift of God—our salvation is nothing less than the good work of Jesus Christ.

I thank God, that all dividing walls between peoples, all those doors slammed and locked, the clothe of our common humanity ripped in two—are bridged, unlocked, sewn back up—all those on the outside are brought in. We hopeless, godless strangers, all of us, are brought near by the blood of Christ.
I thank God that he is our peace!
I thank God that Christ has made two into one, and shattered all the walls that create hostility, all the laws that leave people out, he has fashioned a single new humanity out of our evil clangor and mess, making peace, reconciling irreconcilable people through the cross, putting to death hatred, animosity, and bitterness in his very body.
I thank God that we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. I thank God for that household,
build upon the foundation of the earliest followers and witnesses to Jesus… Christ himself is the cornerstone and together we are growing and becoming a holy Temple in the Lord and a Holy Temple in which the Spirit of God dwells!
I thank God.

              I am caught, locked up, imprisoned, by a vision I had.
I peered into God’s throne room and was thrown down by what I saw
… I saw the truth of it, the ultimate mystery of the universe found in Christ
—I had spent so much time fighting it, following that feeling that God created a nice clear line between who is in, and who is out,
but I came face to face with the resolution, the answer to, a great mystery—a mystery that had spun out for generations, was hinted at, but only now has been weaved into a coherent whole
—I know I’m building this up too much for you
—building up your anticipation and excitement…
after all this truth may even seem rather mundane to you today,
after all it is has been preached by the apostles since the beginning… it is baked into what it means to be the church…
 yet it is the very center of the meaning of life…
It is this, when I peered into the throne room of God, I saw all of humanity knit together into one body.
Because of Jesus we are co-heirs, co-members, co-partners in the Gospel
We are fellow-inheritors, fellows in a single body, and fellow participants in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
              That’s what I’m captured by, always stirred forward to preach to those who seem to be left out of God’s good news. They too are given the Kingdom, they too are inheritors of the overflowing riches of Christ.
              And don’t you know, this great heavenly truth—that we are one. It is our possession, but only if we give it away. Give it away to everyone…
everyone, even to the powers and principalities—all those things in this world that are bigger than any one person.
              At your baptism you renounce Sin, Death, and the Devil, you renounce all the powers that defy God
—those are who I’m talking about—the hosts of hell, fate and addictions, guardian angels and grief-inducing evils
—all of it shakes and repents when you are one… unity in Christ calls the whole world to be what it ought to be
—makes it good
…a Church that makes no distinction between peoples, that affirms all are one with both our lips and our deeds
—it transforms the demonic into the angelic, the evil into the enlightened, it allows us all to become who we are called to be in Christ.
All that is, seen and unseen, find redemption in that truth!

              I promise you this is no cake walk, it is nothing except a long hard slog, but it is faithful.
It is why I continue on in the face of afflictions—someone took a pair of hand cuffs and cuffed me to the gracious truth that through Christ all are one—I’ve been drug across the whole Roman Empire, always attached to this truth, and you might think my hand would chafe where those fetters have been attached, but it continues to be grace—grace all the way through—this transformative truth that I can’t help but follow after—I pray and thank God for it!

              I bow down in thanks, praying before God, the parent of every tribe and nation and people and family everywhere, from the heights of heaven on down to the depts of earth… We are all God’s Children!
              I pray that you all draw strength from the storehouse of God’s glory through the Spirit—by that I mean, I hope you always find your grounding in love, that you trust Christ in such a way that you know he always dwells with you.
              I pray that you know, that all holy-folk know, the immeasurable love of God
—it is the Temple in which God dwells,
our love of one another grounded in the unity we find in Christ, is God’s temple….
It is immeasurably wide and long and high and low
—this love is beyond my comprehension, and beyond yours as well (isn’t it funny I pray you will know the unknowable?) And yet I pray,
I pray that you all might be filled with it, with the Love of God, for surely it will overflow!
              Now, to the one who, by the power at work in us, is able to accomplish more than we could ever dream, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

              In case you’ve not heard me yet, I am imprisoned for your sake, and for your sake I plead that you walk in a way worthy of your calling—walk the way of Jesus.
My siblings, see that our Savior’s path encompasses our whole life. The Way is a gift that has been so good to me and the Church, and all of the Cosmos. Walking the way of Jesus is to be like a surfer, propelled by the wave of God’s grace and goodness.
              It is a journey we take after Jesus, but one we do not take alone—we go together, us Christians, we people of the Way.

              And I know, when we start talking about doing things together, being united in the great goal of our God found in his Son, it is easy to hop from unity to uniformity…
and if we were Pagans, surely that would be our goal—conforming and forcing everyone to fit in one mold and model,
but it is not so among us, we do not conform,
but confirm our relationship with Christ and with one another!
Our unity is the unity of a reconciled people, a people who can see difference and not jump to division… I hear there is a church in your denomination that has as its mission statement “Created in Diversity, one in Christ” that’s getting there, getting to my point!
              Our unity is not of blood or border, country or race
—and that means we have to hang in there with each other in moments of awkwardness and doubt
—we have to be humble and gentle and magnanimous
—I guess what I’m saying is that we have to love one another, and I’m talking about more than feeling, we have to love one another in an active, aware, intentional, forgiving and merciful way—that’s the kind of love that can bridge any barrier—that’s the kind of love and kind of community that finds its unity in Christ.
              Yes, there are many things that make us different one from another in Christian community (at least the kind I’m talking about) but we are all centered on the Christ, whom we follow…

              We are one body bound together by one Spirit,
just as we are called to the one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 one God and Father of all;
He is over all, through all and in all.
              I swear this will be the last time I talk about captivity, about being a prisoner… we’ve all been given gifts by Christ—in a sense we’re captured by those gifts—I imagine that is why I can’t help but evangelize—tell people about God’s love found in Christ Jesus—I was captured by the gift of the Evangelist.
              And we were given these gifts for a reason—so that the love of God found in Jesus might fill all things,
that all of creation might be what it is, good,
that the church might be what it is, the body of Christ,
that each of us might be who we are in Christ.

              Some will find they are apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, some pastors and teachers (poor saps). All of these gifts are meant to restore us to the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
so that there will be a unity of the faith,
so that we shall know the Son of God,
so that we will be little Christs and together fill the world with his Love!
              Let me make it plain, your wacky pastor does his thing with Glasses, Map, Hammer
—let’s just look at the map part of things for a moment…the goal, the “Map”—the destination! is a New Creation!
We have a variety of gifts, but one goal, all the world resurrected, renewed, built up in love!

              And as you live in this old world, even as you strive toward the goal of the world as it truly is in Christ, do not be misled…
the way of Jesus Christ is truly a unique way of life, and there are many other ways that seem easier or more in vogue or more successful…
              There are many pagan virtues practiced by your society that can knock you off balance, that will try to pry you from Christ—let it not be so… be on the watch and look out:
-you shall be tempted to slouch toward unfeeling acquisitiveness
-you will be tempted to hate instead of love, or even cease to care at all
-you will be tempted to see acquiring things as the greatest goal of life
-you will be tempted to be so stultified that only greed will move you
-you will be tempted to give up sensitivity for stimulation.

              But hold fast to that compass you have, Christ Jesus is your north star, navigate knowing that the center of compassion is Christ, that feeling for another person, and even more importantly acting in love for the sake of another person—is Christ working through you.
              Truly, be renewed—shed those temptations, let go of the old creature that you might be part of the new creation—put on the new person, the one created by God, the one being made right and holy by Christ Jesus.
Be the people this letter is addressed to, the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ. Amen.

              I have written many things to you:
-I have continually thanked God for you Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.
-I have insisted that God is reconciling and uniting all people through Jesus Christ.
-I have proclaimed that the goal of God’s action in Christ is a new creation.

              And you all need to know
because God’s goal is a new creation,
because unity in Christ is how that is happening,
because you are folk who continue in the faith of Jesus
Therefore your life will be forever changed!
              Therefore all the rules in this world, from the 10 commandments to common courtesy—they have changed for us, haven’t they?
              Getting angry or tearing someone down… when you can be thankful instead… is downright diabolic.
If Christ is uniting us, one to another… then lying to your neighbor is the same as knowingly lying to yourself.
               Theft is just downright illogical… instead it is our holy logic that we share with those in need, recreating the world for Christ’s sake.

              Oh my family, do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not become unfeeling, do not lose the compassion that is yours from Christ, such a loss would be a win for the devil.
Lose all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice
Gain a tender, kind, forgiving heart—for God in Christ has forgiven you all.
              Be little Christs, children of God, imitating God.
Walk in love, for he walked the path of ultimate love for you.

              It is all worship, delightful to God, salt that flavors, and light that illuminates—that’s what we are, what right worship is.
              It is all worship, giving thanks and praise, being astonished by all that is good, all that is from God—notice it and give thanks!
              It is all worship, every role we have in the world, every relationship we have—-----—in everything you are, be mindful of Christ.
-As a crossing guard, be mindful of Christ,
as a student, be mindful of Christ,
-as a parent or grandparent, as a child, as a spouse—be mindful of Christ
-as a tax collector or rabble rouser, carpenter or fisherman
-as a teacher as a tinkerer as a truck driver,
-as a nurse as a night watchman as an anesthesiologist
-Ditch digger and a dime store clerk… every vocation
…in everything you are, be mindful of Christ.
Be empowered by God whoever you are,
and know that there are no second-class citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven!

              I write all that like it is easy or something…
it is not…
it is hard, it’s impossible even
…this journey we are on together, the way of Jesus, following after our savior…
it’s hard, it got him killed didn’t it?
So, bring with you enough bread for the journey… God’s justice
So, be swaddled with all that is from God…. Salvation and Spirit
Be bound tight by our loving Lord so that we can follow… enfolded in faith
Be clothed and protected in God… that peace that passes all understanding.
Be empowered by the Lord, after all there are plenty of powers that push against you,
powers that shall be overcome by the Lordship of Christ
—the diabolic kingdoms of this world shall come under the reign of the Kindom of God!
I write all of this to you in utter confidence and without fear, for I wear the very garments I offer up to you—Justice, Peace, Salvation, Faith, and Spirit… I have faced the worst of the world and yet been reconciled and redeemed, and so shall all that is be reconciled and redeemed through Christ Jesus.

Peace to the whole community, and love with faith from God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be with all those who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.