Remain in Me

abide

April 29, 2018

John 15:1-8, Easter 5

  • I am the bread of life
  • I am the light of the world
  • I am the gate
  • I am the good shepherd
  • I am the resurrection and the life
  • I am the way and the truth and the life
  • I am the true vine

If you have noticed anything about the Gospel of John, it is that Jesus is not afraid to state who he is and what his purpose is. Today’s lesson finds us amid Jesus’ farewell discourse. This is the conversation that Jesus has with his disciples before being arrested and sentenced to death on the cross. These “I am” statements that John presents throughout his gospel points to the divinity of Jesus and what he means for the people of Israel, and the world. Today’s “I am” statement is the last one in a series of seven. The same amount as the number of signs Jesus uses to show his divinity and connection with God, the father.

The funny thing is, just before this speech, Jesus says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.” Yet, Jesus continues to speak. Most scholars conclude that these next couple of chapters were added later, by John himself or editors from the same community, to explain further the discourse Jesus has with his disciples during the last supper.

Jesus’ bold “I am” statements point to a truth that the people of Israel have been longing for since exile. It is in Jesus’ promise to abide in them that they are given hope and a sign of God’s grace for all of eternity.

Abide is a word that we do not hear too often. Perhaps one of the words, that we sing of in familiar hymns, but not one that we use in everyday language. To abide in something requires a long-term commitment. To abide, you must stay, live, dwell, last, endure, or continue in what you have promised. It is not a one-night stand. It is not a brief encounter left for others to deal with. It is not an opportunity to go in and fix something and then retreat. To abide, is to enter into relationship and community.

What is it that we choose to abide in today? There are signs all over the place of those times that we choose to abide in the things that are not of Jesus. They exist away from the vine, yet we are drawn to them out of temptation. We abide in addictive behaviors and substances to help ease the pains and struggles that we encounter in this earthly life. We abide in bad relationships that are abusive because we fear what may happen when we leave them. We abide in sins that corrupt and lead us further away from the true vine.

 What makes you think that the disciples were any different?

Yes, we know what most of them did before they were called by Jesus to follow him and go out into the world and proclaim the good news. They were human just like us. That means that they came to Jesus with their own vices and addictive behaviors. Let’s admit it, the disciples probably would not have received a second look today. They would have been working on the lines or in the fields and they would have been looked over.

However, Jesus does not look them over, he looks at them in the eyes and invites them to follow him. They began to learn what it meant to abide in Jesus. However, since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we also learn that they abided in other things as well. Primarily, they abided in the fear of having to take up their own cross. The uncertainty that came with the call that Jesus had placed upon their lives. A call that made them step out of their comfort zone. A call that made them become leaders and engage in others and proclaim the good news as far and wide as they could.

It is in this farewell discourse of Jesus’, that he wants them to experience the grace of God. Jesus is trying to recap their entire three-year journey together over the course of one meal. Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before being led to the cross. While it may sound like it, Jesus is not threatening them with judgement or punishment. He is trying to tell them and show them how much he loves them. This love he wants them to know, does not stop with them. It extends to those that they share the love with as well.

As they find themselves abiding in Jesus, they are grafted right on to the same vine. The vine that God prunes and keeps healthy. A vine that bears good fruit. They can relate to this image of Jesus being the true vine. In the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament as we know it, the image of the vineyard was used quite often. It is hard work to get a vineyard functioning at its highest level. The farmer that oversees the vineyard must know how to properly care for the vines and prune and trim them on a regular basis. If you have gardened, you have come to learn that many plants and flowers react positively to pruning and trimming. You pinch off old buds so that flowers will rebloom. I have learned that if you pinch off the first buds of pansies, as hard as it may be to do so, the flowers will grow even more abundantly and fully. You trim back rose bushes to make them healthier so that they do not choke themselves out.

Jesus started trimming the disciple’s old ways of thinking before they even knew what he was doing. Through God, he began to increase their belief in themselves which will eventually push them out to minister to the people of Israel and beyond.

As I read this passage, I keep going back to vs. 4, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” This promise that Jesus makes to the disciples continues to  this day. As I read that, it does not tell us what we must do. It is full of love and compassion that is poured out for all people. Jesus does not say, if you abide in me then I will abide in you. What Jesus says is, “as I abide in you.” Whether you are aware of it or not, Jesus is already abiding in you. Whether you like it or not. Jesus does not need an invitation to enter our lives. He is already there. Catharine of Sienna wrote this beautiful prayer nearly 700 years ago:

And you, high eternal Trinity,

acted as if you were drunk with love,

infatuated with your creature.

When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit

but the fruit of death

because it was cut off from you who are life,

you came to its rescue

with the same love

with which you had created it:

you engrafted your divinity

into the dead tree of our humanity.

O sweet tender engrafting!

You, sweetness itself,

stooped to join yourself

with our bitterness.

Jesus comes to abide in us despite our own faults and sins. The Message translation, by Eugene Peterson, translates it, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”  Jesus is there when we choose to abide in those things that take us further and further away from him. Jesus is there when we denounce him and yell and scream at him. Jesus is there when we reach our lowest point, ready to pick us up and walk with us. Jesus abides in us, just as a parent abides with their child. Jesus remains with us, stays with us, and dwells with us all the days of our lives. The least we can do is return his love for us with a joyful love shared with our neighbors and the strangers in our midst just alike.

Let us pray. Jesus, the true vine, we thank you for grafting us into your loving care, even when we push away. May we learn to care for others in the same way and work in your vineyard that you have laid before us. Amen.

 

 

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Shepherding God’s Creation

17_259_Earth_Hour_Social_Web_1600x600_v2

April 22, 2018, Earth Day

John 10:11-18

These are the sounds that you would hear out in the field if you were watching over the flocks. The bleating of sheep. Possibly the sound of bells. The birds chirping. All the sounds of a glorious creation that has been given to us by a loving God. A creation that we have been entrusted, and a creation that is vulnerable to the demise of our own greed.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day!  While, as humanity we have been entrusted to care for the creation since the beginning, we have not always done the best job. We have taken from the earth with reckless abandon and have in just the past century began to realize the affect it has had on our environment. The call to care for creation first came to us in Genesis.

Today has also been known throughout the church as Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear in the Gospel, Jesus’ promise that he knows each one of us and has laid down his life for us. This promise flows over to creation. Martin Luther once wrote that, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” We are surrounded by the living Gospel. The good news that surrounds our lives.

The discourse that we enter this morning is a continuation of Jesus’ response to why he healed the man that was born blind. The Pharisee’s were questioning Jesus on why he chose to heal the man on a sabbath day. We do not get to hear the entire dialogue but come in from the point where Jesus says he is the good shepherd.

The sheep are not always left in the care of such a loving shepherd. As Jesus points out, the hired hand could care less what happened to the sheep. He cares more about his own safety and ensuring that he is protected from harm then he is about the wolves that may come to harm the sheep. The hired hand does not have a vested interest in the well-being of the sheep. Other than perhaps a paycheck! The hired hand does not love and have compassion as the good shepherd does.

When it comes to the care of creation, too many of us are apathetic. We simply do, without thinking about the consequences of our actions. We are no better than the hired hand that Jesus speaks of in the gospel lesson. When we take little to no vested interest in our communities and the care of them and the ecological resources, we are far from being a shepherd. This is part of the statement that Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, released for Earth Day:

As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we share a deep love for all of God’s creation and a profound responsibility for it. Made in the image of God, we are called to continue what God is already doing for the earth (Psalm 104), enabling it to flourish. God assigns humans to care for the earth as God does, in loving servanthood. (Philippians 2:7, Genesis 2:15).  

 Daily we witness the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. At the same time, we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, is defiled by pollutants and waste, resulting in ecological crisis. As a member church of The Lutheran World Federation, we affirm “that the global ecological crisis, including climate change is, human-induced. This is a spiritual matter. As people of faith, we are called to live in right relationship with creation and to not exhaust it.”[i]

We find an overwhelming grace in Jesus as the good shepherd. Jesus has taken on death like no one before him. In his willingness to lay down his life for all of humanity, we encounter a grace that the world had yet to experience. In the image of Jesus as good shepherd, the Pharisees are offended because they come to realize that they are the hired hands in the story.

Jesus as the good shepherd is an image that we are all very familiar and one that speaks a message of welcome. It is as a good shepherd that Jesus welcomes all into his flock as his body and blood are given to us at the Lord’s Table. In this simple, yet complex act, we become one with the body of Christ and are encouraged to become shepherds ourselves.

It is a good thing that Jesus only called himself the good shepherd. Imagine if he would have called himself the “awesome” shepherd, or the “extraordinary” shepherd. These would have been big shoes to fill and ones that we would have been overwhelmed to even think of stepping in to. However, good is an adjective that seems doable. We can be good! We can step up and learn to care for others the way that Jesus did. We may not always get it right, but to be good is much easier than to be “extraordinary!”

How about we start to see if we can be a good shepherd when it comes to caring for the creation that has been entrusted to us since Genesis. Heather Bennet, Executive Director of Blessed Earth Tennessee, wrote a piece for Rethink Church on caring for our environment and points out the six “R’s” of living sustainably. Perhaps you have heard of some of them.

 

  • First, REFUSE. If you don’t need it don’t buy it. If you don’t need it don’t take it. This includes food.
  • Second, if you can’t REFUSE then REDUCE. Reduce the amount you need.
  • Third, if you can’t REFUSE or REDUCE then REUSE.
  • Fourth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, or REUSE then RECYCLE. Recycling is probably the most popular, but recycling is energy intensive. Think about the transportation, energy and water involved in the process.
  • Fifth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE or RECYCLE then ROT. That’s just an R word for compost.
  • Sixth is pretty special: REST. This one is not dependent upon the others. Every week practice REST. When we rest, we’re not driving or engaging in commerce. We’re probably going to enjoy some time outside. For Christians, this day would include spending time in God’s word and in God’s creation.[ii]

 

When we begin to think about how our actions affect creation, we start to embody the image of a good shepherd. It is something that is very doable.

Jesus comes and reveals himself to the disciples and us as the good shepherd. A shepherd that is willing to lay everything down for the life of just one of his sheep’s.  Let’s not just simply follow as a sheep. May we be so bold to be a shepherd for others that are lost and lead them to the way of not only caring for creation, but in the truth of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Bishop Eaton concludes her statement:

In grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment. Our “concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.” Our concern is, then, propelled by hope and guided by principles of justice.  We find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to everything God has made. We seek justice for all of creation in concert with God’s creative and renewing power. We do so understanding that we have the ability and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

Let us pray. … Christ, the good shepherd, may we find hope in your relentless ways to bring in all of humanity to your flock. We give thanks for being called to be your hands and feet in spreading that good news for all to hear. May we spread the good news through our actions in caring for creation and in our love that we model from your love of us. Amen.

 

[i] http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7922

[ii] http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/changing-the-world/spirituality-and-environmental-care

 

Review: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather

whatunitesus

This past couple of years have helped highlight how divided we are as a nation. It seems to appear that you have to be either on one side of the political debate or the other. There is no room for middle ground. Yet, it is this middle ground that we must meet and enter into conversation with one another. It is only in our Utopian dreams that we are all going to get along and conflict will not exist.

In summary, this is a major part of Dan Rather’s presentation, along with Elliot Kirschner, in their book, What Unites Us. There is a common ground that we can all stand on and begin to vision what the future of our county looks like. There is not one right solution and at times there are valid points that can come from both sides of the aisle. Where our leaders are tending to fail their country more and more is in their believes that they have the only right solution.

Rather discusses what Patriotism looked like during World War II and his early years as a reporter. He shares his experience with Watergate and what it means for him to be a true patriot and love the country that he grew up in. Too often, we mix patriotism with the idea of nationalism. The United States was not created in the scope of nationalism. It was created in the hopes and dreams of founders that were seeking freedom and a better life for their families. Somewhere along the line this message got misinterpreted.

The United States is the nation that it is because of our diversity. The many cultures and identities that have came together to form a country that should be welcome to all. Rather does not wax poetically at this, he simply calls for a rationality to return to public discourse.

Are You Ready to Believe?

fishpita

April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

Emotions are powerful!!! However, being emotional, is often seen as weakness. We are encouraged to keep our emotions in check so that we do not appear weak. Whether that emotion is one that brings tears or anger, there are individuals that will chastise us when we show either of them in the workplace. At times, those emotions are justified and are calling us internally to pay attention to what is happening.

Jesus was no stranger to emotion. He cried when his friend Lazarus died, and we know that he showed anger in the Temple when he overturned the tables of the money changers. It seems quite often, the emotion that emanates from the disciples is one of fear when they struggle to understand the divine that is in their presence.

In this morning’s gospel, we learn that Jesus, “opened [the disciples] minds to understand the scriptures” (v. 45).  This is after various times when they were left understanding nothing about the things Jesus said.  We too may feel like that when we read scripture. The sermon is one way for you to get a little better understanding of scripture, yet it is usually one sided. Christian education is a great way to enter into dialogue with one another over scripture and various topics.

A way that you can do it on your own is through Lectio Divina. If you are not familiar with it, Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer. In Lectio Divina, we welcome the word of God to live among us and listen and pray. There are four movements to Lectio Divina. We will quickly move through them this morning, not too quickly though.

  • Lectio (“read”): perhaps several times. Meditate on it as it is read.
    • What do I notice?
    • What feelings does that word or phrase bring up in me?
    • What might God be saying to me through my reaction, the emotion that is drawn?
  • Meditatio (“meditate”): Listen for the Holy Spirit, how is it moving you?
  • Oratio (“pray”): enter into dialogue with God. Listen.
  • Contemplatio (“contemplate”): A chance to just be silent and still

I pray that as we walked through that process you were able to listen and perhaps hear something different in the word that you may not have heard before. It is even better when you can spend more time with the word and an extended dialogue with God.

Each of us heard different things. Different words and phrases that spoke to us. Different emotions that developed within us. As I do this weekly with our Sunday lessons, it usually leads to the culmination of my sermon. This is the word that I need to hear from God at this present moment, and also one that the Spirit guides me to speak to Trinity Lutheran as well.

The disciples first response when Jesus appears to them in this passage is not much different than when they encountered the divine previously. Even though they heard of the previous two times Jesus appeared after the resurrection, they were startled nonetheless. They may have been joyful, but their disbelieve was still present.

I wonder if it was too soon! In their mourning, they did not want to see Jesus yet. Jesus reappearing to them means that they must get up and leave that upper room where they have been sulking. They must start living out the calling Jesus has placed on them to proclaim the good news and baptize. I wonder if they are ready to step up to these tasks and Believe. There seems to be a bit of reluctance and dragging of feet.

Whenever we are pushed out of our comfort zone, it creates an uneasy feeling and causes us to drag our feet. Change will do this. Change means that things as we knew them are no longer the way they used to be. The disciples no longer had Jesus to lead them on their journey through the countryside and beyond. The change of having to go out on their own and become leaders is startling and terrifying.

While there are similarities and skills I can take from my previous career in retail management, I will admit that the calling of a pastor brings much more anxiety. I had the answers when working for large corporations and was given directions to follow. That does not happen in the church. Each of our churches are in different context and different ministries are required in each of those contexts. It takes time to learn those contexts and the communities that we minister.  Many of you may have experienced similar situations in your careers or if you have moved from community to community.

It is easy to just sit back and hope that everything will take care of itself. There always comes a time that we must step up and believe what has been told to us and what we have seen. Jesus wants us to be transformed as we encounter the living word.

Before Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand scripture, he showed them how human he was. He encouraged them to touch him and feel that he is real. He is standing right there in their presence, not as a ghost, but in his physical human form. He has flesh and bones just like them. After that, he eats. Once again, to show them that he is physically with them. In their heightened anxiety, he brings them peace. That is the grace of God at work. When the disciples are exhibiting the most human emotions of fear and anxiety, Jesus comes to them bearing peace. A glimpse of the kingdom to come. He shows them that he is truly real and once again sits down to eat with them.

When we are called to be transformed, Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our own anxiety and fears. Jesus is with us in our doubts and uncertainties. Jesus is present to guide us when we have no idea where the road is going. Our emotions are a great indicator that something is about to happen or may not be quite right. They are our own internal thermometer that measures how we are as people of God. Jesus is present with us in all our emotions.

Whether we are fearing that next step that we must take or are joyful of the promotion that we just received. Whether we are depressed over a relationship that just ended or elated over the birth of a child. Whether we are angry with a co-worker whose errors seem to be overlooked or happy that we made our quota for the month. Jesus is present with us all the time to provide us peace. A peace that gives a glimpse of the kingdom to come. A peace that gives us the resurrected Christ.

Let us pray…All comforting God, we give thanks for the times you bring us peace and we are unaware. May we be open to the indwelling of your Spirit and the living word that resides among us. In whatever emotions we bring to you, may you still the waters with a love that knows no bounds. Amen.

Picture: Fish & Pita, Mark Hewitt, April 2012. Pastel 290W x 210H.

The Good News is New Life!

heisrisen

Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Encountering the unexpected is scary! It can be especially challenging when you have preconceived expectations that do not match up with the reality of the truth that you encounter.

I am sure that at one point in your lives you could relate. Whether moving and starting at a new school and having to make new friends, or beginning a new job and getting to know the details of that job. Personally, I never changed school districts growing up, but my children have had the opportunity to go to several different schools. I encountered more change in my professional life. Going to college I had originally thought I would become a CPA. My sophomore year I started working retail, and for some strange reason fell in love with it. Later in that sophomore year, I discovered that I could major in retail management in the business school, thus leading to a decade spent in the retail industry with a handful of location and company changes. I always went in with my own personal expectations, which would be met sometimes, but more likely than not, they did not match reality.

Can you imagine what the women that are waiting for the sun to rise in our story this morning are going through? Did they get any sleep, or are they just waiting for the sabbath to be over so that they can make their way to the tomb.

They have witnessed the journey of Jesus from his entrance into Jerusalem  to his death on the cross. Throughout our gospels, the women are one of the constants that have been with Jesus, supporting him and caring for him in the aftermath of his crucifixion. I imagine the three women in our story are in deep mourning. They are distraught over what they have witnessed these past few days, and they are garnering just enough strength to go do what is necessary to care for Jesus’ body. Their conversation on the way to the tomb was probably minimal. Perhaps, talking about what needed to be done, and especially worrying about how they were going to roll the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb. There is a song, Beautiful Things by Gungor, that could speak to their worries and mourning. The song begins,

All this pain, I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

They had the expectation of arriving at the tomb with a challenge in front of them. Would the three of them be able to roll that heavy stone away? They are so caught up in these questions and their mourning that they look up and they are there. Yet, what they see is not what they expected. The stone has already been moved! They enter the tomb to be welcomed by a man dressed in white, and the body of Jesus is nowhere to be seen. They are left speechless. It is the words that they hear next that leave them with terror and amazement:

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:6-7

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

In the terror and amazement, they rush from the tomb, only to remain silent. And here is where our reading ends! This is the original ending of Mark’s gospel. Mark leaves it quite open ended because the work of the disciples is never complete. Several verses would be added later so that it would come to a resolution! Our own need to be to tie a bow on it and make it complete! We do know from our other gospel authors that the good news was spread from the women. If the women had not shared that good news, we may have not been here this morning.

Good news is scary! The good news is holy and it brings word to us of the divine. Encountering the divine can leave us in terror and amazement. In their reaction, the women knew fully well what they had encountered in the tomb and it may have taken them a little time to contemplate the words and to share it with the disciples.

Why do we get those butterflies in our stomachs and a heightened anxiety whenever we encounter something new?

Because new life is scary! Just like the good news. It is the good news that brings us new life. That is what the goods news of Jesus Christ is all about. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are brought to new life. It is a life, where resurrection has conquered sin and death. It is a new life that brings hope to a world that is broken and lost. It is a new life that rises through the old. It is a new life that fulfills the promise of God.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Resurrection is not the end of the story! It is just the beginning of new life! A new life that can be scary, but a life that is saturated with hope. A new life that is the seed for transformation for each and everyone of us. A new life that abounds in a never-ending love.

Yes, you can stop what you are doing and be enamored in the awe of the resurrection, but don’t let yourself remain there. What if you were to look beyond the resurrection and begin to live your life the way that Jesus wanted you to? To reach our to your sisters and brothers with the same love and compassion that he did. To embrace the stranger among you and give them shelter. To proclaim the good news of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through not only word, but through your actions in caring for others. This is the new life that Jesus is hoping for in the promise of the resurrection. This new life is beautiful!

Beautiful Thingshas the following chorus:

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around,
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you

This morning we are reminded of the new life that is found in Jesus Christ. A new life that is for each and every one of us. A new life for those that have been Christians their entire life. A new life for those that have struggled with their faith. A new life for those that have followed in Peter’s path and denied Jesus.

To live life is chaos! To live life in Jesus Christ and the resurrection is a beautiful thing!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!