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

 

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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

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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.