Sunday, November 28, 2021

We Start at the End

        The season of Advent, the start of the Church year, always starts in this strange space

—sometimes called the Little Apocalypse
—this warning and parable about the end
—the end of the temple, and the end of the world.

         We start at the End.

Prayer

 

         We start at the End…

         The End… 
often Christianity gets hung up on this
—we misconstrue our faith as a form of escape
just whiteknuckle it, until the end, and all will be well.

         But that does such damage to the Way of Jesus.
While there are plenty of apocalyptic sayings throughout the Scriptures, both Greek and Hebrew
—sayings that unveil (that’s the literal meaning of Apocalypse
Unveil what all this looks like to the eyes of God, 
unveils what’s going on behind the curtain,
revealing the meaning found much deeper and higher than we regularly go, in our day to day life and interpretation of the world around us.

         While these sayings are our heritage, 
we must admit they are so often jarring and strange
—images that are at once stuffed with violence 
and also packed with heightened hopefulness
—the language of apocalypse is the language of the oppressed and the language of crisis.

 

         Consider the horror of Luke’s day
—revolts against Rome that ended in failure and despair, destruction, and death…
a crisis the scope of which we can not applicate today.
The Temple before which Jesus is saying these things today
—destroyed by Rome, 
Jerusalem and her inhabitants along with her. God have mercy!

         And then there was the natural disaster caused by the explosion of Mount Vesuvius
—it scattered ash for a 750 mile radius, 
darkening the sky and wounding the weather itself, 
famine following close behind. 
Violence and ash covered the known world, like the first snow.

 

         No wonder the Gospel writers preserve this stark, apocalyptic language of Jesus.    
The earth, battered like a sinking ship,
Chaotic waters and roaring sea covering it with fear and foreboding. 
The heavens, sun moon and stars, signaling that all is not well, 
fallen, fallen the powers that be. 
The heavens above and the earth below 
unveiled, revealed, as imperiled and impermanent.

 

         And we could look around at our world and see heavy trouble too
—troubles too big for any one person to handle or comprehend…

-Our present supply chain snafu is so large that you can see the shipping bottleneck from space!
-That horrible tragedy in Wisconsin,
 a small-town Christmas parade turned into a day of death. 
-Omicron, the latest Greek letter in this Pandemic Drama to threaten nation states and financial markets.

What can we even make of it, how can we hold such things? How can we not rush to God and ask, “Show me a sign—make it plain O’ God.”

 

But, for us and for Luke’s listeners too
—the sign of hope is one that won’t show up using satellite imagery, or looking up at hot ash raining down on the earth…

No, the sign we are offered as hope is hard to see, even if it is obvious once it is perceived… 
that’s why we ought to be alert and watchful and prayerful
—so that we don’t go running after the wrong thing…

We will know that the Kingdom of God is near because it will be like a sprouting leaf
a small thing to be sure, but a sign of so much new life to come!
In hopefulness we will be able to raise our heads, 
hold them high because we ourselves, 
we followers of the Way of Jesus, 
are signs of new birth
—for God has come near to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

We start at the End…

The end… 
the goal… the X on the treasure map that guides our adventure, our address from childhood imprinted on our memory that will lead us home…

What remains at the end? 
What’s there when the heavens are obscured by grey cloud 
and the earth rocked to its core?

         We can look up and see the Son of Man
the promise of Daniel chapter 7
—that while there are plenty of monstrous kingdoms and systems and powers, 
they shall not rule always
—a humane kingdom ruled by the Son of Humanity, 
a Godly kingdom, for the Son of God reigns
—that is one of those final goals, the end we seek. 
A caring, compassionate Kingdom
—that’s the reign of God that is our goal.

         Also we can listen for the Word of God, 
for it too shall not pass away, it too is not going anywhere… 
God’s word is always creative, from Beginning to End.
creating a world that is declared good, 
-creating promises of freedom from bondage, 
-creating Children of God in Baptism 
-creating the Feast of Heaven, the promise of Holy Communion. 
The Word, always creative, always solid and steadfast

 

         The Word of God—Jesus.

The Son of Man—Jesus.

Ultimately, our end, 
the Revelation of God, 
the unveiled hope to the oppressed and those caught in crisis, 
the one who will not abandon us to any power in heaven or earth, 
the one for whom we wait
—the creative and kind king 
revealed at our every ending…
All of that is Jesus.

Our beginning and our end, our whole life, 
is being found in the arms of Jesus Christ.

A+A

Thursday, November 04, 2021

What does it mean that Divinity weeps?

 

What does it mean that Divinity weeps?


         There is a theological and philosophical idea that God is impassable
—that is, God does not feel neither pleasure or pain
That God is a God unmoved.
-this is a vision of God that delighted Deists like Thomas Jefferson in the 17 and 1800s, because such a God would set up clear unchanging rules with which to base science and mathematics
—a God who wouldn’t upturn the world on a whim or abandon rationality based on a rash feeling.

-This vision also fit with some Stoic thought of the first century
—such a God was a God made in their image,
their ideal
—God living beyond the pull of emotion and feeling
–a Divine Philosopher, an Ideal Unmoved Marcus Aurelius or perhaps Aristotle in the sky…

         Yet, if Jesus is God with Us, and he is! Then we must contend with the question:
What does it mean that Divinity weeps? That God sheds tears?

Let us pray

 

         Isaiah writes today’s famous message against death’s destructive power while his city, Jerusalem, was under siege.

Imagine writing such beautiful, hopeful, defiant words, while death is knocking at the gate and seeping in through hunger, disease and warfare.

         Isaiah writes about Death in a mythical way,
he borrows from an older Cannanite description of Death,
Death as a sort of Dragon,
a cosmic crocodile who consumes everything,
who unrelentingly eats all that is, seen and unseen,
traversing the stars until it swallows up the entire cosmos…

         Say what you will about pre-modern people, but, in their own way, they are rather realistic about the power of death
—no hiding death in the corner somewhere and just not talking about it.

 

         But the good news on offer by Isaiah is that this eater shall be ate, the consumer consumed.

Consumed, interestingly, not by a bigger predator, which you might expect,
but instead made into a meal for Death’s prey,
for us,
by a God who loves us,
a God who is with us;
a God who takes the shroud of death and makes it into a picnic blanket,
who transforms disgrace into invitation,
who makes of death a glorious feast…

         A God who loves us and is moved by our tears and wipes them away
—a God, too, who you can imagine weeping with us,
even as those tears are tenderly swept away.

A God weeping like Jesus weeps.

 

One of the shortest verses in the whole of scripture is simply
“Jesus wept.”

Moved as we are moved. These tears for Lazarus are like the tears that Jesus will pour out again in agony in the garden,
steeling himself for his fate,
steeling himself for his confrontation with that consumer of worlds,
dying like Lazarus died…
surrounded by the stink of death, like Lazarus’ tomb.

         This tomb where he calls Lazarus by name
—come out!
Calls Lazarus, and Lazarus listens…
after all, the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and know it, and come, for they know he means only good for them.
The shepherd’s voice calling him by name,
as Mary Magdalene will be called by name at the Resurrected Jesus,
as she cries for him
—called by name and then recognizes her Lord
—her Lord is risen from the death
—risen as his friend Lazarus is raised…

 

         This one who weeps for all who he loves,
who calls us by name,
who joins us in death that we might join him in resurrection
—he is the same one who swallows up death,
who wipes away tears,
who shares a blessed feast with us
—our salvation,
our God.

         Perhaps Jesus is a poor Stoic
—he wears his heart on his sleeve.

         Perhaps God isn’t a God that comport with solid rationality
perhaps he is not primarily a God of mathematics or first principles or at base a creature of science
but that’s okay
ours is a God of passion and poetry and prophecy and love…
mourning and weeping
—a Loving Parent, like a Mamma Bear,
who would turn over every constant and rule of the universe
in order to constantly care for those who weep and die
and are overcast by death and disgrace, crying out to be saved.

 

What does it mean that Divinity weeps?
It means God feels each death,
cares for each one of us.

         That God who weeps, will also transform,
will make a meal,
will call each one by name—Annette, Roxanne, Mike… all of us…
—call us each like Mary, that we will know him,
call us each like Lazarus, that we will be raised with him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Eat Gospel, Friend!

 Eat Gospel, Friend!

 


         One of my favorite lines of scripture comes from the book of Ezekiel, “Eat Scroll, Mortal.” Doesn’t it sound simultaneously commanding and bizarre! Throughout the prophetic books of the Bible this command, in one way or another is made—eat God’s Word, transform your lips by kissing flaming coals for they will speak Holy Words, consume sweet or bitter scrolls…

         Now, we’ve been reading through the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel for a month or so… 
we’ve been here so long that Karen has rightly started asking me, “Didn’t we just read that?” And in many cases, yes, yes we did… 
we’re still in John 6, still slowly but surely feasting on this meal that John has put in front of us.

         John chapter 6 is saying to us nothing short of, “Eat Gospel, Friend.”

Look, 
God’s saving works continue in this bread, 
in this bread you are one with the Father, 
this bread is the whole of Jesus’ life, 
this bread and cup is offered every Sunday! 
“Eat Gospel, Friend.”

 

Prayer

God’s saving works continue in this bread “Eat Gospel, Friend.”

         Now, John’s good news, this Gospel he is serving us, puts Jesus in an interesting place
—he is the center of all the acts of salvation that God does throughout Hebrew Scripture. John’s Gospel rehashes, remixes, is like, the stories of God saving God’s people throughout the Bible! 
The Gospel of John has the same rhythm as, and rhymes with, the Hebrew Bible.

         For example, in the 2nd chapter Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan Woman at a well, and by the end of that chapter we thoroughly know that what he offers is of the same stuff as God’s action with the patriarchs found in Genesis, Abraham, Jacob, Sarah, and so on.

         And so too, in John 6, Jesus embodies God’s saving work at Passover, and his sustenance throughout the Exodus.

         Jesus as the bread of life is: 
Lamb and Blood, 
Bread, 
Manna, 
the Flesh of the Quail, 
every thing that kept folk alive in Egypt and on their desert wanderings. 

         And just as many continued to complain in the desert and rejected what God was doing
—even when God made every effort to bring them along on the journey, 
so too, many folk in Jesus’ day eventually say, in effect, 
“I don’t like this Bread of Life, and honestly I don’t really like that God of yours either.” 
Yet, like the Exodus, there are also those people like Peter who profess, “Lord, to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life!”

Yes, it is the Passover story in miniature.

 

         In this bread you are one with the Father! “Eat Gospel, Friend.”

         Jesus offers a unique and ongoing connection to Our Father in Heaven! 
He has come among us as both the Child of Mary and the Heavenborn child of God, so that we might be the same! 
So that we can have a life in God! 
That we can eat this bread and lean back and find ourselves laying against the heart of God!

 

This bread is the whole of Jesus’ life! “Eat Gospel, Friend!”

Jesus’ response that we read today; My God!

Unless you chomp this flesh and guzzle this blood! 
…No airy spirituality here, but the concrete 
incarnate 
God we celebrate every Christmas!

My God! Our God! 
Chew on the God who offers His flesh for the world! 
This God who truly shows up in the flesh… 
in our flesh and blood reality
flesh in the cradle, 
flesh at conflict with religious teachers, 
flesh on a Roman Cross, 
flesh, resurrected! 

 

This bread and cup, offered every Sunday! “Eat Gospel, Friend!”

One of the quirks of John’s Gospel is that there is no last supper
or at least no grand recitation of the words of institution
—instead we get that all here with Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000: “It is I; Do not be afraid.” 
“I am the bread of life” 
“Behold, true food and true drink!” 
“His words are Spirit and Life!”

All these things:
God’s saving works throughout history recited so that we remember, 
connecting and abiding, Communing with God, 
the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ, among us
—all of it we find at table. Thanks be to God!

 “Eat Gospel, Friend!” A+A

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Genesis 3

 Genesis 3

Snake:

            I was just having a laugh with these dumb buffoon bipeds. I just wanted to flex my cleverness, and expose theirs.

            “So he’s not letting you become a god?” I asked.

            “So you can’t eat anything here?” I asked her. There was a spoonful of truth in my slithery little question, and she took the bate.

 

Eve:

            I was just defending God… 
but I slipped up, 
I accidentally expanded the prohibition
—I said I couldn’t even touch the tree…

But then I did, and touching didn’t do anything…. 
So touching led to taste, and taste then led to coveting
—I wanted the fruit so badly everything else became secondary. 
The Snake, Adam, God
—all of it was expendable for the sake of my desire for that fruit.

            (God help me, somehow between the snake’s words about becoming a god and the yearning for the fruit, I’d broken the commandments, not yet written, broken them from first to last—as humans tend to do…)

 

Adam:          

            There were two goods there
—the good command of my good God, 
and the good offer of good fruit from the one who is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.

            I was not mature enough to discern
—who would be, in my situation?

            She said “look. It is good.”

            And I ate.

            I felt so clever—so wise—and then…

            Then I felt so exposed.

            We were.

            We are.

            Naked.

            Naked, even after we made the fig leaves… 
naked and exposed in such a way that every relationship, 
every interaction, 
every inch of God’s good earth, 
was now a threat.

            Even when I heard God calling, it felt dangerous.

            God said: 

“Where are you?”

“Who told you that you were naked?”

“Did you eat from the tree?”

            Those question marks were like flaming spears hefted at me, and for a shield, I pointed at her…

            I pointed at the bone of my bone, the flesh of my flesh
—the one whom I loved as my self! 
I pointed at her to point away from myself.

            And she in turn pointed to the Serpent.

            And the Serpent, 
no nimble fingers like Eve and I, 
could not point away.

 

God:

            I was just going for a walk, 
the breeze is nice at night, in Eden.

            I was seeking my friends…

            Instead, I found a mess of enemies, 
a circular firing squad… 
The cover-up was so much worse than the crime.

 

            He pointed to her
—this one who was a part of himself, 
and look he was alienated from the Earth
—that is, his very self… 
Adam from the Adamah
—Earthman from the Earth, 
human from the humus. 
He spiraled away from his own soul and all the world that reflected it.

            She then pointed to the Snake, 
and even as her arm stretched out, 
a barrier swung down between each subsequent generation
—mother separated from daughter, 
son from father
—now smuggled into every birth, there was some kind of abandonment…

 

            Then there was that snake, left with no legs to stand on, 
the snake was the start, the separation from them
enmity and revilement between the humans and my other creatures.

 

            This cover-up, 
pulled down a thick shade between us all
—ultimately alienation among us
—these poor humans aliens from their interior selves and their progeny, 
aliens on earth itself, 
and alienated too from me….

 

            But still, I seek them out
—walking in the evening breeze, 
asking after them…

            Creating sturdy cloaks for them so they won’t perish in the cold or expire in the heat.

            Starting over with them again and again and again…

-Starting over with Cain, marking him so his crime doesn’t come back upon him.

-Starting over with Sarah and Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael

-Starting over with Moses, when my people cried to me while enslaved

-Starting over with Samuel and Saul and David and his lot.

-Starting over after the exile, empowering prophet after prophet

-Starting over, present to them all in my Son, and in the Spirit as well.

-Starting over with you at every turn.

-Always walking in the evening breeze, asking after you.

A+A

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sermon: Holy Holy Holy

            “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.”

            When Isaiah is in God’s presence he looks up to see the face of God
 and looks up, 
and up, 
and up, 
and he can’t look high enough to see… 
Only the hem of God’s robe is present, and even it is such a magnificent thing that it fills the whole temple and has no beginning or end.

            For that matter, surrounding the throne are these Seraphim
—these “fiery things”
—angelic beings swooping around the throne 
literally burning with God’s holiness.

            They sing of God, “Different, different, different, Lord God Almighty.”

            Isaiah is overawed by his smallness…
The gap, the difference, between holy and human lands with such a force that the foundation of the temple shakes.

            Yes, God is God and Isaiah is not…And yet! 

 

“The whole earth is full of his glory.” 
God’s grandeur saturates God’s world. 
Through flaming coals Isaiah is brought into the conversation: 
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” 
And he can answer, can say, 
“Send me!”

From plain human lips, can come God’s word to the people.

Isaiah can enter into the holiness of it all; can join in the intimate song of the angels:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

 

            Right there, in this short angelic song, is the tension within the human experience of God
—God is holy—wholly other. 
Distinctly separate from the creation, 
transcendent… 
And God is so close, 
so intimate, 
so imminent 
that we can say he is in our heart, without lying.

 

            There is a tension between God the Transcendent One whose name we ought not even utter, 
and God imminent, seeking relationship with us at every turn, closer to us than our jugular vein.

 

            In the Christian tradition, this tension finds its fullest expression in the mystery of the Trinity. 
Our outworking of the connection between the Godhead and the individual Persons of the Trinity. 
The mystery of God expressed in the relatively recent Maoiri Confession we began today’s service with, 
and in the Athanasian Creed we will confess after the sermon, 
and we will sing of this mystery in our closing hymn today.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

 

Prayer

 

            Holy—the Father, the one who is Creator, not creature.

            Holy—the one who knows the depths of canyons, and sea, and space. Who empowers atoms, cells, and streams of cicadas ascending from the deep.

            Holy—all of it, the laws of physics themselves held together
—the Sustainer of the Universe
—the sustainer, too, of my whole self, from psyche to sense of smell. 
You, dear Lord, give to me all that is necessary for living, 
all of it a gift of God!

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

 

            Holy—He who is the Word of God, 
human and divine, 
the bridge between.

            Holy—Jesus, 
you graft the Holy Holy Holy onto shouts of Hosanna, 
for truly in you we find both heavenly altar and entrance into Jerusalem.

            Holy—Redeemer Kinsperson, 
Son of God
—Heir of all of Creation. 
We belong to you! 
You are our allegiance and our identity!

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

 

            Holy—Spirit
our belief in God, that we can trust in God at all
—it was first kindled by you! Kindled and blazing!

            Holy—this continual call, 
a call to your creation, the yearning for completion.
calling your church, foibles and all, this mixed body you bless continually.

Calling me too! Calling me in my divided and disparate self to you!

            Holy—how you:
Gather us like a hen her brood,

Enlighten us so we shine like a lamp on a lampstand, bringing light to the whole house,

And  Sustain us through it all.

 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

 

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy SpiritHoly Godhead.

            You are strong to save.

            In you rests true authority and majesty—our awe, love, and trust!

            You are the great I Am, you were and are and shall be.

            You fill the temple, fill the world, and fill that which is beyond what is.

Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Amen and Alleluia.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Lord’s Other Prayer

        I’m currently reading through a book about editing fiction, 

and there is a whole chapter on “beats” 
the various ways editors break up dialogue to create white space on the page and give our eyes time to process the information we’re reading… 
and when you read John’s Gospel from chapter 14-17, 
it feels like someone should have added a few beats.

         It’s one long discourse, 
Jesus’ Long Goodbye after the Last Supper, 
three chapters of him talking… 
and then here, him praying.

         If John had an Editor I imagine she’d tell him to break up the prayer by showing the tension in the air as this prayer marks a great transition point from 
Meal to Passion, 
ministry to resurrection, 
Incarnation to Ascension!

         Perhaps describe the disciples hanging on every word, there at table with him.

         Describe their dawning realization that Jesus is speaking into existence a community 
—a community filled with the Spirit, 
led by the message of Easter…

         Describing, in short, Our Lord’s Other Prayer.

 

Prayer

         There is this moment for acrobats on the trapeze, 
the First Catcher has let go of the Flyer, 
but the Second Catcher hasn’t grasped them yet…

         A moment that hangs there, shimmering
(literally hanging in the air), 
a moment for the audience to hold their breath,

And then the Flyer is caught, 

We can catch our breathe, 
the Flyer is held safely again.

 

         That moment, 
that’s where they are,
where the earliest of Church is…

Jesus let’s go, with this prayer, 
the Spirit’s arms are ready to catch them… 
but there is still Cross and Tomb and Easter Joy.

This is the moment where you hold your breath.

He is praying for them, for us, in this moment…

 

This moment of tension and transition, 
a new world coming into existence
—the resurrection of the whole Church.

 

         In Ecology, transition points in nature
—where white shore gives way to blue ocean waves, 
green forests to amber plains
—they are rich spaces, filled with crosspollination and an opulent diversity… 

         And so too here, as Jesus prays:
what will come of the Spirit’s guiding, 
the Church’s mission
—will be magnificent…
 
-Once Jesus was here among us;
-Now Jesus is everywhere among us!

 

         Or, think of growing pains in children
—it’s the reason they’re often so fidgety, 
their bodies are changing, 
they are becoming, 
they live life between shore and ocean, 
they live in that moment where we all hold our breath and look up in the big top!  

 

         And Jesus is praying for these disciples, 
and if you read the whole of Chapter 17 (please do!) 
he’s praying for us too
all who have heard the Gospel,
All who have come to faith, 
Are in his Prayer!

 

         As we all at Spruce Run enter into our own points of transition

-Returning to in-person worship

-Re-engaging with our community

-All of us figuring out how to be faithful here on the other side of this year,
Growing pains, 
spaces of crosspollination, 
hanging in the air 
aware that the Spirit will catch us….

 

         In all this, don’t forget that Our Lord did not just teach us to pray, but also prayed for us, in the Lord’s Other Prayer:

         “Heavenly Father! 
I have completed my work in the world
—the work you gave me to do is fulfilled.” He prays.

         “In me all may know you as Father, 
and know that my messiah-ship continues that first act of creation, 
it is the re-creation of the world.”

         He pauses, ensuring that his Disciples are listening in
“They belong to you, Sacred Parent, 
because you gave them to me and I am returning to you. 
They belong to you, 
because they know me through my words and as the Word made Flesh.”

         “They are part of my story now,” he prays, 
“they belong to the Word, 
even as they are in the world. 
My Story and the World’s story,” 
he sighs, 
“clash. 
Sometimes viciously, 
protect them, 

I pray.”

         “Protect them, Loving Father,” he prays, 
“for my Way is not an escape from the world, 
but its resurrection and transformation."

         He reaches out his hands to them.

The Disciple’s hands are shaking, 
but they all join hands, 
one with another,

“I pray that my disciples might be one, as we are one.  
And not they alone, 
but all who will be moved by the testimonies of their lips and their lives. 
I pray for all who are moved by my story, 
may they all be one 
together.” 

         He concludes, “May they all experience your total love, Father, 
the love that was there at the moment of creation. 
May the love with which you loved me 
be in them.”

And they all said Amen.

Friday, May 07, 2021

A Rose By Any Other Name: Lutheran

 

So, an Australian Lutheran Seminarian decide to be an Internet Troll, and recently attacked a facebook group connected with my denomination, asking the question: “Why does the ELCA have Luther in their name when he was a racist and sexist bigot?” From what I can gather from his responses to people’s earnest answers to his question, he mainly wanted to tell folk that his version of Lutheranism follows Luther warts and all, unlike those sissies in the ELCA who ordain women and apologized for Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.

Now, his question got me thinking about names. Of course, Luther wanted Lutherans to be called “Evangelicals” but like so many other groups (for example Methodists, Mormons, and Quakers), Lutherans didn’t get to name ourselves. Instead, people hurled the term “Lutheran” at us as an insult, and it stuck.

And I wonder how that name Lutheran, has shaped who we are as a church?

A few counter-factuals:

What if we’d managed to have the name we wanted, Evangelical. Evangelical comes from the Greek word for Good News. Would we have been more diligent in telling people about God’s grace if we’d been known as Evangelicals? Would more people have heard that God loved them even before they loved themselves, if we’d had that name?

For that matter, what if we’d named ourselves after the documents that best describe what we believe, the Confession of Augsburg or the Book of Concord? What if we were Concordians or Augsburgers? Would this decenter the personality of Luther and a corporate identity focused on protesting and “Here I Stand” moments and re-center on celebrating moments of unity?

Or, what would have happened if Luther’s Roman Catholic Order became the descriptor of our faith, what if we identified as “Austere Augustinians”? Would that point us back to the first four centuries of Christianity more than our current identity? Would scripture AND tradition be a watch word for us instead of “Scripture Alone”?

Finally, what if we’d called ourselves Catechismers? That is, what if the commonality we clung to was Luther’s Small Catechism? How might that empower lay folk to explore their many Christian callings? After all, if you are identified with Luther, you probably need to be familiar with his whole history and the giant corpus of his works. If you identify with the confessions, it is fraught with background and a great deal of study is required. But, if that little book, read by parents to children, is the center of it all, wouldn’t more people think “Eh, sure, I can do that!”


Monday, May 03, 2021

Sermon: Abide in Love

         I often wonder what exactly what was going on in the Christian community from which the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation sprung

—all these descriptions of the Christian faith are so circular

-The Gospel of John has the constant refrain of I AM, and descriptions of Abiding and Loving.

-The Letters of John fixate on one or two words and coming back to them continually, to the point that they grow familiar and worn from use.

-The Book of Revelation does much the same, but using different bizarre images and animals to drive home several central points.

         This circular way of describing the Gospel draws us into mystery, 
not explaining so much as experiencing the Love of God found in Christ.

 

         And today, I want us to sit a bit with the Gospel of John’s circular, 
repetitive, 
reflection on Love
Abiding
and Command.

Let us pray

 

         “If you all keep my commandments, you all will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

         We are commanded with a new commandment
love one another… 
         We are commanded to bear fruit… 

         We are to bear the fruit of love… 
and the fruit of love… 
is love!

         We love because we are friends of Christ, 

         We are friends of Christ because God loves his Son

         God loves his Son because he came into the world with love to show forth the love of His Father to us 
and through us!...

         I told you this was going to be circular!

         

         Yet, imagine such a command… 
command the plant to bear fruit
As a frustrated gardener, let me say, it doesn’t work that way, 
the plant bears fruit because that’s what the plant does…

         Or imagine the command… 
command the lover to love the beloved… 
command a couple, madly in love, to love each other… they’re already doing it… it’s what lover and beloved do!

         So too this command… it points to what already is—you’ve already been chosen by God… 
God has already befriended you! 
Isn’t there great joy in that friendship! 
Great joy that God is gracious, God has already acted on your behalf!

 

         “Abide in my love”

--I love the word abide “Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…”

—it just rolls off the tongue… 
I love the word abide almost as much as John’s Gospel does… 

but, it’s become sort of an old word
—like a favorite pillow so well loved that the stuffing is spent.

         Inside this word, Abide, is the Greek word “Meno” which I’ve seen translated 18 different ways, everything from “Sustained conscious communion” to “Invest” to “stay” to “cuddle.” 
All trying to get at a sense of mutuality
a sense of physical closeness
and a sense of continuation
 I still think Abide works best… 
but let’s hear what’s being said.

         There is a mutuality in the love between Father and Son and Son and his chosen
—this is not an unrequited love, 
not a one sided friendship
—there is a mutuality to it, we grow close.

         There is a physical closeness to this love
—Jesus’ love draws him so close to us that he becomes human in the flesh… 
and Father and Son love each other in such a way that Jesus lays against the bosom of the Father 
(think of holding a newborn! Wow!)… 
Jesus abides with us and with the Father! 

         There is a continuation, this kind of love is a spark that catches and burns on always! 
This isn’t bedding the cattle down for the night, this is a barn for always… 

 

         The Father abides in the Son, 
the Son in his friends, 
his friends abide in the mutual love between Father and Son, which is the Holy Spirit!

         They are vine grower and vine and branch bearing fruit because it abides in the vine and vine grower. 
The fruit too is the love of the vine grower
—his command completed because it was completed in him
—the entire vineyard is joy!

 

         “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you all, abide in my love.”

         This love is the love we see knelt down close on Maundy Thursday
foot washing… 
the kind of love that is physical, 
intimate, 
and humble.

         The kind of love that is sacrificial and incarnational too
—there is a reason so many Christians memorize John 3:16
—it describes the kind of love God has for the world through Jesus Christ: 
Jesus dwell, abided, in this world, not to condemn us, but to love us, 
to save us, 
to bring us everlasting life!

         This love is the kind of love that makes the invisible God visible for us!

         God loves the world by dwelling in it physically, drawing the world to him in friendship and joy, 
fulfilling the command of love in us.

 

Love
Abiding

Command.

A+A

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Lord is my Shepherd

          The LORD is my shepherd…

         Two words in the Hebrew, yet due to their poetic and metaphorical power, they hold multitudes, they take truth’s ray and, like a prism, split it up into a disco ball--rainbow of light… 

rough common images and 
sustaining devotion and 
ecstatic delight and 
divine promise! 

Let us pray

 

         The Lord is my shepherd. 
A common sight.

         When I was in Jericho on a tour, we were all loading our suitcases into the lower storage section of the bus, and there, 
between us and the Mount of Temptation, 
in an abandoned parking lot, 
was a herd of animals, 
dry dyed an orange-red by the dust. 
If you looked carefully some of the rugged animal were sheep, 
some goats, 
and even a few rough sheep dogs. 

         A common sight, we were told
—the flock belonging to Bedouin shepherds.

         Just something to see after breakfast
—as common as a car or Starbucks or gas station.

         Shepherds and sheep dogs protecting the sheep 
from the wolves and wild dogs… protecting the flock from pack hunters that would pick off the weakest and scatter the rest. Bedouin shepherds standing between danger and the most vulnerable.

         Shepherds restoring their flock with rest, 
comforting with protective presence, 
bringing the flock home.

 

         The LORD is my shepherd
—the whole psalm pointing to pilgrimage
—the journey that the faithful take from their home to the Temple in Jerusalem. 
-Through the ups and downs, hills and highways, 
-darkest valleys packed with robbers ready for ambush 
-and eventually the cleansing welcome of anointing 
-and feasting 
-and the holy fellowship, 
-worshipping at the LORD’s house, returning 
festival after festival, 
sustained by both the journey and the destination. 
         Perhaps something in the practice of pilgrimage 
transforms the pilgrim from someone who simply hears about the LORD 
transforms the pilgrim into someone who can say to God, “You are with me!”

         “Surely,” the poet says, seeing the pilgrim throng, crowded together along the way
“surely the LORD is their shepherd, the shepherd of these sheep traveling to the temple.”

 

         The LORD is my shepherd
“surely too,” the poet quickly adds, “such a journey is something more
—is not our whole life a pilgrimage?”

Filled with joy and Holy presence, 
pasture rest 
and paths that surely are gifts from God.

         And dangers too!

         There are shadowy spaces, 
where the worst of it lurks, 
yet take comfort, even there… God is there! 
There too in jubilation and good meals together 
and isn’t God pursuing us with grace all of our days, 
to the end and even beyond the end!

 

The LORD is my shepherd
—something confirmed by many lives
—but especially the life of a Blind man whom Jesus healed.

         You see—John’s Gospel has this rhythm to it, 
miracle and explanation, 
miracle and explanation, 
often times pointing to Jesus’ actions and person 
echoing and shaped by God’s actions in Hebrew Scripture…

         “I Am the Good Shepherd” most certainly echoes “The LORD is my shepherd.” 
It is an explanation of Jesus’ healing of a man blind from birth (go back to chapter 9); 
A man unaided by the religious authorities, 
declared a sinner on account of his blindness, 
then later persecuted by them, hounded
even his parents, hounded 
hounded for an explanation of his life transformed.

 

         “I Am the Good Shepherd” Jesus explains, giving his own poetic interpretation of Psalm 23.

         Many find themselves on the outs
—kept out even
—from the flock… 
yes, some could give it all away and become Essenes, 
ascetics off in the Dead Sea waiting for an angelic apocalypse.
yes, some could become Sadducees, 
provided they had the proper lineage and close connections to the temple establishment.

Yes, some could become Pharisees, 
managing their dining room table as an altar to God, with a keen eye on purity…

But for the majority
for so many people
—they just didn’t fit… 
worse still… 
often they were pushed out…

Blind or lame, 
leper or of the wrong race or ethnicity, 
impure for one reason or another, 
impoverished, 
a sinner, 
a collaborator, 
a person just trying to get by, but not doing it right… 
pushed out of the flock…

         The vulnerable, and those made vulnerable by their exclusion…

 

But he is a good shepherd…

Society may have left them to death’s valley.

Society might have said “its survival of the fittest” 
and pushed the most vulnerable to the wolves to save themselves…

 

But Jesus

He’s a good shepherd
—he echoes the 23rd Psalm.

Just as he heals the blind man 
and finds him after he’s been driven out 
and bestows upon him goodness and mercy…

         So too the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for these vulnerable ones
—these tossed away ones, 
these excluded ones

these driven out ones

         “You are with me! You comfort me!” 
He enters the valley of the shadow of death with them, 
with us, 
calling still, 
knowing them even when they don’t know themselves, 
refusing to let go even after he’s let go of his final breath.

         He holds us fast, 
nothing can rip us away from his gentle and strong hands. 
Hands that hang from a cross 
and are shown to his friends on the other side of the grave.

         We shall not be ripped away from him!

 

The LORD is my shepherd. A simple enough symbol, common and plain.

The LORD is my shepherd. Along the way with every pilgrim, drawn to God’s home again and again.

The LORD is my shepherd. From valley to temple mount, our whole life long.

The LORD is my shepherd. The Good Shepherd Jesus, who lays down his life for the vulnerable.

The LORD is my shepherd. A+A