Simply Being

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June 17, 2018

Mark 4:26-34

 

Somewhere along the timeline of civilization an idea was planted that we must get ahead. We must be better than those that came before us. We must have better jobs then our parents. For many, there is the predominant thought that the more toys that they have is surely a sign of how well they are doing in life. Let’s not talk about the debt that many go into to get these toys.

I was not immune to this line of reasoning. The moment that I walked through campus my freshman year of college, I signed up for those credit cards. I had to maintain the lifestyle I was accustomed to before moving a couple of hours away from home. It took me a while to learn differently, and quite frankly, the learning is still happening. In my twenties, I thought I was going to get rich and retire early by being part of a multi-level-marketing company. The only thing that happened was that I went into more debt and almost destroyed my marriage.

We always want more and find it hard to settle for enough. Wendell Berry wrote the following in the forward to a book,

The industrial era at climax…has imposed on us all its ideals of ceaseless pandemonium. The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest….There is no such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth….Everybody is weary, and there is no rest….Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.[i]

When we strive for the things that are not of God, we draw ourselves further from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is found in the simple and even mundane. The kingdom of God resides in the simplest things that are quite often overlooked and easily neglected.

The gospel of Mark starts sharing Jesus’ parables at the end of chapter 3. We heard the first last week in our gospel lesson. The parables continue into chapter 4 and into our gospel lesson for today. Jesus teaches in parables to help the disciples and others listening to understand how the world that they are currently living relates to the kingdom of God. The parables are comparisons meant to place two things alongside one another to provide analogies, contrast, or reflection. Quite often, that reflection is based on the comparison of two vastly different things.[ii] An outcome is usually present that is not expected. Jesus turns the expectations of those that are listening upside down.

In the first parable of the seed, Jesus concludes, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” This is language that is taken from the prophet Joel referring to the final judgement. It can also be found in Revelation. At this point, Jesus does not say who will be on what side of the harvest, but I am sure that he probably caught their attention. The faith that they have grown up in looks towards the judgement day as one where God will separate the goat from the sheep or the chaff from the grain. For the leaders in the synagogue, it is a matter of who is in and who is out. If you recall, this is much about what are gospel lesson brought to us last week.

Like many of his parables, I am sure that Jesus leaves the disciples thinking about this one for a while. And yet, the disciples are probably still having a hard time of coming to an understanding about what Jesus is talking about. Remember, this is still early in our gospel and in Mark’s version, we still have some distance to travel.

You must admit, that as far as stories or parables go, the first one that we hear this morning is pretty boring. It lacks the action that we like to see in stories. It lacks the raw emotion that we could witness in the parable of the prodigal son. It lacks the variety of soils that are present at the beginning of chapter 4 in the parable of the sower.

A simple seed is scattered on the ground. From this point, it is all a mystery! The boringness of it, is probably why the other gospel writers did not include this parable in their gospels.

We are left wanting more. The disciples were probably left wanting more. How can they be left to sit in the mystery and wonder? Yet, this is where Jesus is calling them to as his disciples. He has asked them to leave everything behind and follow him. For the most part, they seem to be following directions fairly well. Sure, they stick their foot in their mouth from time to time, but they are listening to Jesus and trying their hardest to comprehend and contemplate on what he is saying.

There is a lesson in the simplicity of this parable. The kingdom of God is found in the simplicity. Nothing is required on the part of the one scattering the seeds. “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Jesus could be easily explaining the growth of corn. It is almost like a science book! You have the seed that is placed in the ground and eventually it starts to grow. As it grows then the husks grow, and the corn is formed, and it can be harvested. God provides everything that is needed in the process, from the rain to the sun to the rich soil. It all comes from God in ways that they do not understand.

The simplicity that Jesus brings to the disciples in the parable, is the same simplicity that is available for us to embrace today. We don’t live lives that are meant to be on television or in the movies. Honestly, the stories that we do see on the big or small screens manage to usually weed out the boring and simple things that are usually more dominant in our lives. If you want to see a movie that includes the boring and portrays life in a true manner, watch Manchester by the Sea. Life is in the ordinary. Life is in the mundane. Life at times can be very boring. God meant for us to live our lives as if we are already in the kingdom of heaven.

We choose to create our own kingdoms with our desires and thoughts that we must strive for even more. However, we are like the seed that is scattered on the ground. We are created by God and we will be provided by God’s creation. Our lives are highlighted by school, marriage, children, baptisms, and possibly eventually grandchildren and more baptisms. In the midst of it, we encounter crises as well. Yet, we are called to live in the simplicity of just being. Being created in God’s image, living in the mystery, and rejoicing in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Mysterious and awe-inspired God, how could we ever fully understand the creation that surrounds us. Help us live into the unknown and be comfortable in it. Let us breathe in the very essence of your being and creation so that we may encounter you in every breath we take. Amen.

 

 

[i] Wendell Berry in a forward for Norman Wirzba’s book, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight

[ii] David Lose, In the Meantime blog

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You Are Enough!

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June 10, 2018

Mark 3:20-35

 

I can recall it like it was yesterday. It was summer, and my home congregation was living in the interim as we were waiting for a new pastor. In the meantime, I was helping the congregation bridge the gap from the pastor that was called to a new congregation, to the time that we awaited receiving a new pastor. I was in the pastor’s office and I was going over worship with the supply pastor that was present with us that morning. As we are talking I noticed a Victim’s Advocate for the Sheriff’s Department walking towards the office. She introduced herself and informed us that one of the congregation’s members took his own life over night and was found that morning by his mother in their backyard.

I was left stunned, not quite knowing what to say or do and the supply pastor, not yet called to his first church, was also wondering whom to reach out to. Since worship could not be put on hold, a member of the congregation that was a licensed lay minister went to sit and be with the family in their time of need.

What drives individuals to the point that they feel their last option is to take their own life? I wish I had an answer to this, however, it is not always that clear. Usually, the individual feels like an outsider in one way or another. In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus welcomes the outsiders in and makes the insiders question what it truly means to be a child of God.

For the scribes, to be a child of God, is to follow the rule of the law. Everything is simply black and white and there is no gray area. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for a conversation to further one’s understanding of what it means to live in creation and to be in relationship with it. Their understanding of Jesus is one that leaves little room for God.

Thus, they come to the understanding that Jesus has “gone out of his mind.” They are stating that he is just as crazy as some of the demons that he has vanquished from those that are suffering from “unclean spirits.” For them to state that he is crazy, they are trying to discredit him. They are attempting to get the people that are following him to realize that he is not following the rule of the law that was brought down to them from Moses. Yet, there are so many people that have come to listen and hear what he has to say that they can barely move and are not even given enough room to eat dinner.

By making these declarations, the scribes attempt to say who is in and who is out. They look upon those following Jesus as outsiders as well as those that he is reaching out to in love and compassion. It is in the scribes’ declaration that he is out of his mind that his family has came to talk some sense into him. Perhaps, they are afraid of the shame that could come upon the entire family as Jesus continues to heal and proclaim God’s kingdom.  Perhaps, they are afraid of what could happen to Jesus; for Mary must recall everything that has happened up to this point and realize that Jesus is not an ordinary son to her. However, it does not seem to matter their reasoning, Jesus appears to have disowned his family at this point. In their rejection of him, we see the relationship of the Trinity hold fast. In their rejection of Jesus, it means that the rejection continues over to the Holy Spirit. To reject the Holy Spirit, hardens the heart and a darkness sets in.

That same darkness that leads to a hardened heart can project itself in our lives today as despair. A despair that is hard to come out of through your own strength. Unfortunately, those that find themselves in that darkness of despair today are often stated as being out of their mind. At one point or another, I am sure that we have all been in that darkness. Some people just have a much easier time of climbing out of the darkness.

Unfortunately, I have been a witness of despair taken to the point of death. A pastoral colleague, whose spouse took their own life. A pastoral colleague who took his own life the day before his installation in a new church. I have also been a witness to family members that have come back from that despair. It affects us all.

The darkness that we encounter today are not physical demons (a devil with horns), but demons that haunt our mental acuity. Evil exists and it attacks us in ways that highlight our weaknesses and at times leaves us gasping for breath. We argue over how to care for those that need emotional and mental help. Many times, that help is not available or very hard to attain. The Center for Disease Control just released some staggering numbers that the instances of suicide are up nearly 30% over the last two decades. These numbers should be a call for us to do something different.

This past week there have been two prominent suicides in the celebrity community, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While these celebrity deaths highlight the growing concerns in our society, there are approximately 121 people in our country that decide to take their own lives every day. It is something that tends to get swept under the rug and rarely talked about. In the past, those that have taken their own lives were looked down upon and brought shame to their families. Because that is what society does!!! Those that think they know better quite often have the loudest voice and it becomes the prevailing understanding.

As society places groups of people on the outside, Jesus stands there to welcome them. When we begin to reject children of God, we begin to create our own kingdoms. Ones that are not the kingdom that God has intended for us. We reject the ideas and people that we fail to understand, or simply do not want to understand. We leave no room for the holy Spirit to work in our midst and refuse to see the good that is present in all of God’s creation.

It is in the middle of rejection that Jesus places himself. He knew that there were going to be struggles and that change was not going to come easily. The scribes and other authorities are not going to let him simply walk in and set everything in order. Their rejection did not start with Jesus. The rejection came to anything that they deemed fell outside of the law of God. Those things that fell outside of the religious rule as they heard not only from Moses, but also those laws that established themselves over the years.

It is here that Jesus brings a message of love and hope. A love and hope that welcomed the outsiders to be a part of the beautiful creation. A creation that encompasses the entire world. A creation that God called good.

While the scribes were busy drawing a line in the sand, Jesus was busy stepping over that line, or simply erasing it. While they were busy deciding who was in and who was out, Jesus was on the other side identifying with those that were marked as out. He was caring for them and loving them.

That same love washes over us today. A love that knows no bounds and welcomes all into the restoration of creation. Jesus calls us to action by calling us to do things that do not make sense. Things that are counter to our culture, just as they were counter to 1st century Israel. We too may be called out of our minds when proclaiming the love of Christ and the hope that he provides. If we are, then we are in good company. We are in company with Jesus and the disciples that carried his message forward into a world that needed a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.

The church needs to be a place of welcome for those that feel that they are on the outside. It needs to welcome those that feel they have nowhere else to turn. It needs to be a sanctuary for all of creation. If you have ever felt that despair and darkness, where depression has set in and hope has vanished, know that: You are important, and God made you just the way you are! You are pretty enough. You are smart enough. And you are good enough! You are loved! Loved by those that surround you and embrace you. You are loved, and you matter. You never have to face your challenges alone! There is always someone to turn to or a person that will walk with you to find that help.

For those that have lost a friend or family member to suicide, they are not alone. They are welcomed into the arms of our Lord. Probably with even a few more tears on Jesus’ part, but they are not lost and forsaken. They are a beloved child of God. Created in God’s image.

Jesus welcomes those that are outside of the peripheries. His wide-angle lens brings all into view as a son and daughter of God. He welcomes all of us into the greater family of God. We are called together as one family to share in the body and blood of Christ. We are called together as we are, where we are. Jesus welcomes us all to the table and loves us all. In this love we are restored and experience the grace of God.

Let us pray. Boundary breaking Christ, we give thanks for the families we are born into. More importantly, we give thanks for the family that is called to you in baptism. Through the waters we come together glorifying your word and receiving grace upon grace. Amen.

 

The Sabbath is for Us!

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June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

 

Many of us may know the 3rd Commandment, but are we following it? Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Rolf Jacobson, professor at Luther Seminary, thought this seemed a little too polite and rewrote the commandment for us living in the present:

What is wrong with you people? 168  hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour work weeks, and super centers open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!”[i]

I know, probably a little too in-your-face, yet it attracts our attention. Jesus reminds us that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (v. 2:27). The sabbath is created for us. For those that are overworked and underpaid. For those that are so stressed out they get ulcers and high blood pressure. For those that don’t know where to turn. The sabbath is created for humankind. It is a time to rest and be renewed so that we can reset and go back out and be God’s hands and feet in the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ through our words and actions.

Do you remember when the people of Israel received the Ten Commandments? After Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. A land where they had been enslaved and did not know what rest looked like. In the commandment to rest on the sabbath day, the Israelites were not only instructed to rest, but also their servants and animals as well. It was meant to be a day of renewal for all of God’s creation.

While this may have been the intention of the sabbath, this is not necessarily the way that the people of Israel viewed it in the 1st century. Jesus was not afraid to call them out on this fact either. He did not step out of his way to make sure he did not cause any waves. He did what he was called to do. He came with love and compassion that encompassed his entire ministry. When writing of the sabbath, N.T. Wright says that,

“It had become a weapon. It had become a sign of his fellow Jew’s commitment to a fierce and exclusive nationalism. Along with other badges and flags, it spoke now not of Israel as the light of the world but of Israel as the children of light and rest of the world as remaining in darkness. And this attitude, as so easily happens when religion and nationalism are wedded tightly together, spilled over into popular attitudes even towards fellow-Jews. For many groups, it wasn’t enough to be a loyal Jew; one had to be a better loyal Jew than the other lot. And in this no-win situation the whole point of the commandment – celebrating God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future – had been lost sight of. The rule mattered more than the reality.[ii]

This is where the Pharisees are when they keep watchful tabs on Jesus, hoping that he makes one wrong move, in their eyes, so that they can set the train into motion that will ultimately lead to the cross. The Pharisees believe that they have the only answer when it pertains to God and Jesus is stepping out of their preconceived notions. This is not only a challenge to their understanding of God, but it could impact the entire world!

We are now two thousand years removed from 1st century Israel, yet as humanity, we are not too far removed from the same sins. We continue to lift up our own righteousness over others and believe that we know everything. In the past couple of years, we have heard from the so-called evangelicals and their belief system that has drastically changed from the likes of Billy Graham. We have the word evangelical in our name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To be evangelical, we share the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ. To be evangelical, means that we should be excited around worship and the sharing of not only our faith, but the ministries we are doing. To be evangelical means welcoming all people in no matter where they are.

The evangelical that you hear of today, has nationalism so tied up within it that it speaks to the understanding of today’s gospel lesson that N.T. Wright comments. Our struggles and challenges that we face as part of the body of Christ, are not much different than the struggles and challenges that Jesus and the first disciples experienced two thousand years ago.

Jesus knew that whatever he chose to do on the sabbath would be criticized. He knew that the leaders of the synagogue and the Roman authorities would be keeping close tabs on him. He knew that they would be looking for ways to catch him in violation of anything they came up with. So, you might as well be bold in what you do.

First, he stands up for his disciples that are gleaning on the sabbath. To glean, means that they are picking from the harvest that was left behind. This was also a Jewish law. Those harvesting were to leave ten percent of their crops for those that are not as unfortunate. Almost like a 1st century food pantry. Jesus’ disciples were not doing anything wrong. They were not working. They were gathering what was needed to feed themselves. Again, as Jesus enters the synagogue, he challenges those that are watching by healing the man with the withered hand. What he does is not against the intention of the sabbath, yet the authorities have made their own rules and are looking for anything to squash this movement of Jesus.

The actions of Jesus’ disciples and the healing by Jesus that takes place in these passages are ones that are meant to highlight the sabbath. The disciples are being renewed and replenished in their well-being through the gleaning of the grains of wheat from the field. Creation is being fed and renewed! Again, in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand, he is restoring creation. He is bringing a sign of life to a man that has been seen as less by those that pass him by. Jesus’ love and compassion that shows through this gospel lesson is one that we can learn from today.

It is hard to find Jesus in the midst of our disagreements and bickering with one another. When we take up sides, we leave little room for Jesus and the Holy Spirt to work in our midst. We have become a society that is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options that are available to us and in our reaction to draw back, we go to extremes and strip everything away. In this stripping away, we manage to strip away Jesus as well.

We leave little room for Christ in our gathering because we think we know what it is right, and we do not need him to show us any different. And it is in this that we disregard the sabbath and become overwhelmed.

The sabbath was created for us too! The sabbath is meant for us to be renewed in the saving grace of God. The sabbath is meant for us to be reminded of the waters that we find in the baptismal font that wash over us and make us new. The sabbath is meant for us to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ so that we may go out into the world and continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that so much needs to hear of the saving grace of our lord and savior.

Let us pray. God of the sabbath, you have created a time of rest and renewal for us to find strength in you. May we take time, when we need it, to sit in the silence and welcome you into the craziness of our hectic lives. May our sabbath, whenever it may be, renew and refresh us to continue in the calling you have placed in our lives. Amen.

 

[i] Rolf Jacobson, Crazy Talk, pg. 150

[ii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone pg. 30

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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I’ll be honest, I probably would not have picked this book up if it had not been featured in a recent edition of BookPage. The one description that pulled me in was that it was the next Harry Potter.

I believe that statement may be a stretch, but it does draw ones attention and is a page turner. The book follows Zélie and her brother Tzain as they seek to restore magic to the Maji that had it taken from the several years ago. This hits close to home for them as their mother was a Maji and so is Zélie. In their journey they encounter the children of the king that had the magic destroyed and killed many of the adult maji, including their mother.

Does the apple fall far from the tree? The king’s daughter, Amari, has a close connection to the maji as her best friend and servant was a maji and also killed by her father. The jury may still be out on the king’s son, Inan.

The author’s writing style is easy to read and shows much promise as she is only in her mid-twenties. I imagine as the series continues for it to only get better and better. For being classified as a young adult book, the intimacy that is contained within it, may be pushing the boundaries for some. Not much more than many of the other young adult novels that are currently on the market.

It is a story that has been told over and over again in many books, movies and throughout time. It is ultimately a story of good against evil. It is also a story that speaks to the current events of our time in America. The voices of white privilege quite often prevail in our society and silence the voices of persons of color. Her author’s note is a must read as she shares that she “shed many tears before I wrote this book.” In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the senseless killings of unarmed black men, women, and children. You can hear this coming through her writing and it pulls you into the heartache that each character experiences. A heartache that is not devoid of hope.

Let Us Join the Dance

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May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

 

Who likes to dance?

I know that I witnessed some members of the congregation dancing a couple of weeks ago during Michael and Jessica’s wedding reception. That is about the time that I decided to leave!

I will admit, that I do have the high scores on some of the songs on our collection of Just Dance video games. That is about the only time you will find me dancing, in the privacy of my home. Or perhaps, out in public if the opportunity provides itself to embarrass my children.

There is power in dance, to invoke embarrassment, but more importantly to connect with those around you. That is why the language of dance is a great metaphor to connect to the relationship of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the image of relationship that we are called to live into as humanity. It is a dance that requires moving in time with one another and opening ourselves up to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that we won’t step on each other’s toes from time to time.

Sometimes, it is not just stepping on toes, it is stumbling and wondering where we are going to land. Within John’s words, come a mystery that is hard to define and fully understand. While Nicodemus appears just as dense as the apostles do throughout the gospels, we are left feeling for him and his lack of understanding. Jesus’ words are not necessarily easy to understand. His words appear to be a riddle where one must be standing on the same side of Jesus to fully understand. In a way this is true. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vs. 6). Jesus is on the side of the Spirit.

Nicodemus’ understanding of God still resides in the flesh. He has yet come to know the Spirit and the power that it yields in the very life of all humanity. If you recall, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. The mystery that surrounded Jesus was very intriguing for this Pharisee. He truly had a desire to understand what Jesus’ purpose was and how he related to God. He knew that he came from God yet was still at a loss for a complete understanding. However, he cannot quite wrap his mind around what Jesus is saying.

Apparently, he was not the only one. When he first approaches Jesus, he tells him, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” His coming at night is a reflection of where he is in his faith and understanding of Jesus. Yes, it is good to study the Torah in the evening, but the evening also provides a good cover so that those that want to see Jesus quieted, do not see Nicodemus interacting with the one that is soon to turn Jerusalem upside down.

Nicodemus asks the question, “How can these things be?” (vs 9) Now, if you are a good Lutheran, this question may sound somewhat familiar. As Luther walks through his catechism, each section he asks, “What does this mean?”

We are inquisitive people and it is nice to know why we believe what we do. However, when it comes to the Holy Trinity, we are often caught up in the mystery with few answers in sight. While the number of Americans that do not claim a specific faith tradition as their own continues to grow, that does not mean that they are not inquisitive. There is still a longing for connection.  A longing to dance with people and practices that fulfill the desire within our hearts.

Perhaps you have heard people say, “Well, I consider myself Spiritual, but I am not religious.” First, I am not fully aware what this means, and I am not sure if they fully know what it means. I do not think it is too off base to equate people that place themselves in this category with Nicodemus. There is an intrigue within both to discover more about the mystery of God and how it relates to their lives as they interact with others. Being spiritual is not a bad thing in itself. Neither is being religious. There are times when both can be taken to extremes and we lose our focus on the center of it all, Jesus Christ.

Nicodemus had an inkling that Jesus knew something that he did not. He sensed that there was more to Jesus then just what he saw in the signs that he performed. He desired to be closer to Jesus and learn from him. He recognized him as a teacher and he wanted to become the student. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night hoping to find something or hear something that he hoped would unveil the mystery. It was Jesus that came to him though.

Jesus came to Nicodemus bringing a hope that he had only dreamed of. While he stumbled along the way, stepping on Jesus’ feet and even over his own words, Jesus shared with him that dance. The mystery that plays out with God the father, himself, and the Spirit. Jesus uses baptismal language to connect with Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (vs 5). Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the cover of night only to have the light revealed to him that can only be found in Jesus Christ. A light that vanishes all darkness. A light that begins to reveal the kingdom of God. A light that is full of hope and love.

 

Grace in the World

The same mystery is with us today. We do not fully understand the Holy Trinity and the complexity that surrounds it. The light that was revealed to Nicodemus shines through all time and places as we wait to encounter the kingdom of God ourselves. You know what though? The kingdom of God has already started to come. In the water and the Spirit that Jesus speaks of, we find new life in the mystery that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the waters we are reminded of our baptisms and the saving grace that washed over us. The Spirit is present with us as we learned last week to intercede on our behalves whenever we need comfort and peace. At times that same Spirit even pushes us out into the wilderness to challenge us to live our lives more fully in Christ.

Each of you, by coming to worship, have made the conscious decision to enter the Holy Trinity School of Dance. In this school we learn how to let the Holy Trinity take the lead and be led by the Spirit. Richard Rohr, in one of his latest books The Divine Dance, reveals how this dance became visible in the incarnation.

          Jesus became incarnate to reveal the image of the invisible God. The personal Incarnation is the logical conclusion of God’s love affair with creation. Do you know why I can say this? Do you know why I can believe this?  Because I see it in human beings: over a period of time, we all become what we love. God in Jesus became what God loves—everything human.

          Jesus dramatically exemplified the oft-quoted line of the Latin poet Terence: “I am a human being, and nothing human is foreign to me.”

          Just show me what you love, and I’ll show you what you’re going to be like five years from now. Show me what you give time to, what your treasure is, what you give energy to—and I’ll show you what you’ll become.

          God had to become human once the love affair began, because—strictly speaking—love implies some level of likeness of even equality. The Incarnation was an inevitable conclusion, not an accident or an anomaly. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise to us.

He goes on to state that humanity has failed to keep the Trinity intact. We easily look past the Spirit and even past Jesus for that matter. We put everything on God without a second thought and think that we need to appease God. However, it is a dance. A divine dance that takes our entire lives to learn and begin to understand.

In just a moment, we will sing Come, Join the Dance of Trinity. Just don’t sing the lyrics, listen to them and breath them in. For it is in love and hope that Jesus came to dance with us as the Spirit steps in to take the lead. Shall we dance?

Let us pray. Loving God, we may not be Fred and Ginger on the dance floor, but we invite you into our lives to dance and unveil your kingdom. Christ our brother, we give thanks for your flesh that bled to remind us of the love you have for us. May the Spirit lead us and guide us on this path, missteps and all, as we attempt to follow your will. Amen

 

Breath of Life

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May 20, 2018, Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27

 

Nature has both peaceful and destructive tendencies. It can be peaceful after a fresh snow or spring rain shower. The spring brings new flowers and babies of all kinds. However, the power of nature can destroy and changes lives forever. We witness this in the destructive power of hurricane force winds and floods that wipe out neighborhoods and communities.

These same winds blow through our times of uncertainty and desperation. Uncertainty about that job that we may be waiting to hear about. Uncertainty about the diagnoses from the doctor that we are awaiting. Uncertainty about what the future may bring for our children and grandchildren. A wind that swirls around our desperation and longing for a sign of hope that may bring peace and understanding.

These winds blow through our lives where there is darkness and death. In the darkness we tend to blame and point fingers instead of being present to the wind that brings fresh air. In the darkness it is difficult to see the light when we are sulking and throwing our own personal pity party. However, the wind is ever present, blowing this way and that.

The wind blows through our nation and world where it seems at times we have come to an impasse. It appears at times that we are more split than ever. Many languages are being spoken and it appears that no one can understand the other. The Republicans and Democrats are speaking a different language. People of color and the white majority are speaking a different language. Men and women are speaking a different language. The rich and the poor are speaking a different language.  Yet, the wind continues to blow.

 Paul in his letter to the Romans says,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Sprit, groan inwardly while we await adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains! There is a bit of reassurance that comes in this statement from Paul.

We tend to do a lot of groaning of our own when things do not go as expected. God’s creation is an amazing thing that never stops growing. Physically and inwardly. The Hebrew Bible is nothing but stories of creation and humanity groaning as they find their way. Every turn that is taken brings something new and exciting.  There are signs of God working in and among the people of Israel and the wind never stops blowing.

The apostles are experiencing their first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are already numerous crowds gathered in the city because Pentecost was a festival day. A day in which the Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Weeks, or it could also be found to be called the Feast of the First Fruits, or the Feast of Harvest.

It does not take long for confusion to break out as the wind rushes through the apostles gathering and in response they are found to be speaking the languages of their ancestors. There is a stir of suspicion among those that have ran to examine the noise. There confusion is wrapped up in what is happening among Jesus’ apostles, for surely, they are drunk. Peter reassures them that they are not.

 The rush of the wind brings great power to them and is a reminder of the promises that Jesus had made to them before he ascended into the heavens. In the first chapter of Acts, before Jesus ascends, he tells the apostles,

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

This is the same wind that blew through creation at the very beginning. We find this wind in Genesis in the creation story and we find it throughout the lives of the Israelites and their ancestral stories. The wind that comes through the gathering of the apostles is the wind that breathed life into creation. It is the wind that blew through the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve walked among the flora and fauna. It is the breath of life that was in every animal that entered the ark. It is the same wind that separated the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could get safely to the other side and escape the Egyptians. It is the same Spirit that came upon David and made him king of the Israelites.

This breath of life, this Ruach in the Hebrew language, is a powerful word. It connects the Spirit of God to the breath and life of all creation. That breath of life is in the wind that blows through the apostles on this first Pentecost after Jesus has died, was raised, and ascended into the heavens. This is the Spirit that Jesus promised to them. A Spirit that will guide them from this day forward. The Holy Spirit that is one with him and his Father.

 This breath of life, this Ruach, has never stopped moving and working its way into all the nooks and crannies of creation. It brings life to the dead and fills us with hope. This breath of life is the Holy Spirit that is among us from the very beginning of our existence to direct and guide us.

Paul reminds us in Romans that the Holy Spirit is also present with us to

Help us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that every Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

We are the saints of God. In our baptisms we are marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever and in this we are reminded that we receive the same promise as the apostles. The Spirit will be with us to guide, lead, and intercede on our behalf. While the Spirit is ever present with us, it is does not mean that everything is going to go just the way that we want it to. The Spirit can be sneaky, and it does not bend to our will. In his reflection on the Holy Spirit, David Lose writes,

The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors. Keep in mind that after the Spirit is given to Jesus at his Baptism, it immediately drives him into the wilderness. The same Spirit![i]

Where is the Spirit guiding you in your life? Today in this present moment. Tomorrow as you go back to work. In the life of your friends and family.

Where is the Spirit guiding Trinity Lutheran Church as a congregation? Being reminded of the life of the past as we move into a new future where church is not seen as essential as it once was. Are we willing to let the Spirit guide us into some new and exciting ministries? Are we willing to fall flat on our faces, only to get back up with the help of the Holy Spirit to try something new? The Spirit has called us all together to worship and praise God. The Holy Spirit also calls us to go out into the world to proclaim the good news.

The Spirit, the mighty wind that blows through our lives, sometimes like the force of a hurricane, shapes us and prepares us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. How can we best share that good news with our friends and neighbors in Richmond and the surrounding area?

Let us pray. Spirit that blows through our gathering and rests upon each and everyone of us, may we be guided in the truth and love of Jesus Christ. May we be called forth in our lives of faith to serve our friends and neighbors, and as a gathered congregation may we be open to the Spirit calling to new and exciting ministries. Amen

 

[i] David Lose, In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/05/pentecost-b-2018-pentecost-possiblities/

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

toystory

May 6, 2018, Easter 6

John 15:9-17

Toy Story is one of those quintessential Disney stories that brings to light what it means to be a friend. Spanning three movies, soon to be a fourth, it shows the friendship between Andy and his toys, as well as the friendship that is built among the toys. I recall taking a group of high school youth to see Toy Story 3 when I was a counselor. The discussion leaving the theater was around the heartstrings that the movie tugged and whether or not we cried watching the movie.

Why do these movies tug at our hearts in so many powerful ways? Perhaps it is something that we long for ourselves. A longing that has not been filled because, as the U2 lyrics say, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” I can count my really close friends on just one hand. I will admit that I am not always the best to stay in touch with people. The friends I have had in the past have went in different directions and thus I failed to stay connected. The degree of my introverted personality has also limited the number of friends I choose to have. However, there is always a longing. That is one of the reasons I am called to the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. With my brothers and sisters in the order, we have many things in common and there is a great friendship and love that is welled up for one another.

Jesus calls his disciples into a friendship that is truly one of the greatest loves of all. It is in this friendship that we are embraced today and are invited to abide in Christ.

We know very little about the disciples before they came to follow Jesus. We know that many of them were fishermen, there was a tax collector among them, and a Zealot. What did their personal lives look like before Jesus told them to drop everything they were doing and follow him? Did they have many friends, or were they solitary and stayed close to their family?

Two types of friendships can be seen in the first century. Those friends that you made for political reasonings, and those friends that you make with family and neighbors. The Empire could care less about the second one. The only other time John chooses to use the word “friend” in his gospel is when Jesus is on trial. The Jews are trying to convince Pilate to put Jesus to death, and they tell him, “If you release Jesus, you are no friend of the Emperor.” They are persuading to Pilate’s own personal desires to be a leader and to remain friends, in the political sense, with the Emperor.

We know that the disciples struggled for the three years that they followed Jesus. They struggled with his teachings as they attempted to discern what they meant for their lives. They struggled with the crowds that seemed to close in on them wherever they found themselves. They struggled as Jesus told them of his impending death.

When they first started following him and listening to his teachings, they viewed themselves as servants. From the day that they were called, Jesus commanded them. He commanded them to drop their nets and follow him. He commanded them to go out and proclaim the message he was sharing. He commanded them to heal others. It appears that Jesus was setting out a clear hierarchy. A hierarchy that mirrored the organization of the empire. Jesus was not about that. Jesus was about turning everything upside down and disturbing the status quo.

We are very familiar with the hierarchy model in our modern world. It is throughout the government and corporations alike. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The hierarchy that we see in the government is one that is supposed to bring law and order to our society. Fortunately, in a democratic nation, we can elect our leaders. We have a say as to who fits into the hierarchy. As we know, corporations are not like this, and as long as it is within the rule of law, they can do about anything that they wish.

However, leaders of the government and corporations can take their authority to extremes where the best choices are not made at times and there is a disregard for the people that decisions may affect. This is witnessed throughout the centuries.

In our modern world, the servant mentality seems to be what is expected. If we are not the ones in authority, then we should follow the commands of those that are. The Roman Empire in the time of Jesus was very similar in this regard. The leaders in the Roman Empire did not want to make friends with those that they were ruling over. Instead, they would rather command the people to do as they were told.

This is why the gospel message of Jesus Christ is so radical! Jesus enters this world and turns everything upside down. And how does he begin? He begins by calling the disciples that will follow him for the next three years so that they can carry the good news forward after his death.

Over the next three years, they would walk with Jesus and listen to his words and witness the many signs he would perform. It is in this relationship that they would be built up to continue on in the gospel that Jesus was laying out before them. A gospel that is full of love and grace. A gospel that is counter to the Roman Empire at the time. A gospel that brings the kingdom of God to the forefront. As they grow into their relationship with one another, their faith grows deeper and deeper and they realize that God has empowered them to continue in Jesus words and actions.

The disciples are not the ones that chose Jesus. Jesus chose them. From the very beginning! It is in this last discourse of Jesus, before he is arrested that they truly begin to understand the power of his words. In Jesus choosing them, they are empowered themselves. Jesus has blessed them and will continue to do so. Jesus can now truly call them friends because they have come to know fully what is to take place.

C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, highlights friendship as one of the four loves. In regard to friendship, he says,

“Christ, who said to the disciples ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ This Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”

The love that Jesus shares with his disciples, is a love that is poured out for all of humanity. A love that know no barriers. A love that binds us to Christ. A love that chooses us first and always. It is the deep love for one another in friendship that pulls us together as a community. This is the love that Jesus abides in us and that we are called to abide in one another.

This is all Jesus’ choosing. Just when we think that we have everything figured out, Jesus tells us otherwise. Jesus chooses us to follow him and be his friend. This is not just a feel-good type of friendship. This is a friendship that calls us to live into relation with one another and to fill the needs of our neighbors because of the love and grace that Jesus freely shares with us.

There is a line in Randy Newman’s song, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, that says, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.” We experience this in Jesus’ death on the cross. Through his death, we are shown God’s love for all of humanity. The cross is a sign of God’s never-ending love. In this, we are welcomed into the friendship of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. All loving God, we give thanks for the love that is shown to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. May we begin to emulate this love in even just the smallest way as we reach out to our neighbors and love them as you loved us. Amen.