Gathered & Scattered

John 13 & 20 – Pentecost & Confirmation Sunday

What a beautiful week this has been. After a cool, late spring, this week was fantastic. Yes, there was some rain, there were moments of warmth and some cooler weather. But mostly, it’s been sunny and pleasant. Now, sunny and pleasant, to me anyway, means time spent in the garden …finally. And as I was in my garden this week, and as I was thinking about today’s message, and as I considered the sermon title: Gathered & Scattered, I was struck by the order of the words. Gathered and then scattered. On first blush, I would have put those words in the opposite order; especially when thinking about our faith …right? Don’t we want to seek the scattered and then gather them into the church?

But as I thought about it some more, and as I continued to work the soil, I decided that I like this order. We must gather before we can scatter. Whether it be seeds or knowledge or faith or people. Before we can be disciples, we must gather the tools needed to reach-out beyond ourselves. Before we can scatter the seeds of hope, we must first find hope ourselves. Before we can forgive, we must be willing to forgive others. And before we can scatter the seeds of love, we must first realize that we are loved, unconditionally, loved, by God.

Now, the text that we heard from John 13 this morning is finally inseparable from the John 20 passage that I read earlier, and, indeed, from Pentecost itself. I say this because these texts both invite us not only to “gather” an experience of the Divine through the Spirit, but they show us how to “scatter” that experience beyond ourselves. Yes, In Pentecost the Sprit has come, and the Church was formed, but how do we (including our confirmands, maybe especially our confirmands) make the Church new, fresh, and relevant for our generation and for generations to come?

That’s the big the question posed to the wider Church today. How can we be relevant in people’s lives? Well, there are any number of ways to go here and believe me, there’ve been many a book written, visioning plans formed, and new ministries launched hoping to solve this problem. But I think, sometimes, in order to solve a new problem, we need an old solution. Jesus’ solution? He says, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

My friends, if we would like to see our beloved church continue to grow, and I don’t mean just in numbers, but in spirit, in compassion and grace, in how we live-into our faith; then this New Commandment, “Love each other as I have loved you” must be our bedrock. But notice something here. Jesus doesn’t say, “My new commandment to you is to go out and try to save everyone” He doesn’t say, the Greatest Commandment is to judge those who don’t believe as I do, or speak the language I do, or love the one I think they should love. No. Jesus said, “Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.” And loving one another, loving one’s neighbor begins, first of all with humility. It begins by understanding that we all fall short in one way or another. Love continues to grow when we decide to meet people right where they’re at. And we gather more and more individuals when we scatter the seeds of love beyond just our own faith community. How? By being inclusive of everyone, consistently faithful, and open to change.

This is where John 20 & John 13 intersect. In this text, like I said before, we have John’s version of Pentecost. “…he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’” I’ve made this association before. Rhuwa in Hebrew and pneumatos in Greek both mean “Breath, Spirit, & Wind” Three related concepts all encapsulated in a single thought. So, when Jesus breathed on his disciples, he imparted to them the gift of the Spirit; and, in the more familiar Pentecost account in Acts where the flames are accompanied by wind, we see a more demonstrative demonstration of the Breath of God.

You see where I’m going here. All of this harkens back to the second creation narrative in Genesis where God’s own breath becomes humanity’s breath and then, by extension, across the arc of time and space, God’s Breath, Gods’ Spirit, becomes ours. Our very breath contains a bit of the universe, and the expanse of the universe contains a bit of our being, our essence, …our breath

SO, what does all this mean? Well it means that we’re finally, all, interconnected! to my way of thinking anyway, if all things are interconnected then why in the world would we harm, or destroy, or defame? If we are interconnected with the earth, then why would we not take seriously and try to make a difference as the Global climate changes? If we are interconnected with all people, then why would we welcome some and close our hearts and borders to others? Why would we ever exclude anyone on the basis of religion, or race, or gender identity? In a very real way, whenever we exclude anyone, we exclude ourselves …and God.

How do I know this? Because the foundation of this interconnection, the glue that holds it all together, if you will: is Love. God’s Love. God Is love. “Love each other,” Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

Now, to you, the newest members of this congregation. There can be no lesson more important than “Love each other.” This is a wonderful congregation of people that you’ve joined here today; people who live-into that commandment every day in a whole variety of ways. You already know that. But today, the thing you must try to wrap your minds around, is the fact that you are now fully a part of, intrinsically intertwined with, this group of faithful people. And that’s both a joy and a responsibility. It’s a joy because you get to journey with all of these folks through thick and thin, hardship and celebration; they’ll be there for you when you need them, and you for them.

But there’s also a responsibility. In the United Church of Christ, as we learned in confirmation class, we have a saying: “Make the church your own in each generation.” As we move forward, and continue to grow, you will be the leaders of the congregation. You have the skill, the compassion, and the faith to make this congregation, indeed, the whole of the United Church of Christ, your own in this generation and in generations to come, of that I have no doubt.

So, this my invitation to each of you as you live-into the joy and responsibility of this your calling: Be kind. Be generous. Be humble. Be grateful. Be faithful. But above all else, be loving. Love each other, love your neighbor and the earth, and love God with all your being. And this is God’s invitation to each of us here today Gather kindness and scatter generosity; gather humility and scatter gratefulness; gather faith & scatter the seeds of love. Gather Love from each other, and scatter a love for your neighbor and for the earth, and, in the midst of it all, love God with all your being.

May it be so. Amen and Amen

Wisdom Calls

Proverbs 8 – Trinity Sunday

When I was in Seminary, one of the required readings was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Edwards, he was one of the driving forces behind the “First Great Awakening” in the early 1700’s with his insistence that people recognize and repent of their sin. Now, Edwards was charismatic but to be honest, he was also a little bit scary. You see, the image of God in this famous sermon was not that of a loving God, or even a grandfatherly God, but one that seemed positively sadistic. Edwards depicted God as an angry God who dangled sinners over the fires of hell like someone might dangle a spider over an open flame.[i] Not a very attractive image of God. In fact, I’d say it’s an image that would drive you in the other direction.

But, fortunately, the Biblical view of God is very different. The Bible presents us with a God of love, a God of relationship, a God of community.[ii] Community. That’s an important word especially as we consider our understanding of the Trinity today. But why? Why is viewing God as three persons so important? Well, to begin with, we have to confess that know less about God then we actually do know, in this lifetime anyway. And since we can only imagine God from our limited human capacity to understand, then we must use human images and symbols to envision God. And one of these images, one very important symbol is love.

Now, we know as human beings that love is most fully expressed when there’s a counterpart; a partner or another. So, it should come as no surprise that God, who is actually love itself, has counterparts in the Bible; Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is central to our faith, because the love it represents is the basis for everything God does; including both creation and salvation. [iii]

Now, recently, I read a book by Richard Rohr called the Divine Dance and the bases of this book, as the title indicates, is to recapture an understanding of God as Trinity by adopting the image of God as engaged in an unending dance. Creator, Christ, and Spirit ever-twirling, ever-dancing, ever-circling one another in the mystery of the Trinity. Rohr begins by reminding us that “…mystery isn’t something that [we] cannot understand.” Rather, that it’s something that [we] can “endlessly understand.” “There’s no point at which [we] can say, ‘I’ve got it!’ Always and forever,” Rohr says, “mystery get you!’” He then says, with this understanding of mystery in mind, that, “Circling around is an apt metaphor for this mystery that we’re trying to apprehend.”[iv] In other words, community among the three-persons of the Godhead and their coactivity, their movement, is both dynamic and fluid.

Rohr goes on to say that, “…this is not some new, trendy theology from America. This is about as traditional as you can get. The very mystical Cappadocian Fathers of fourth-century eastern Turkey eventually developed some highly sophisticated thinking on what we soon called the Trinity. It took three centuries of reflection on the Gospels to have the courage to say it, but they of this land, including Paul of Tarsus before them and Rumi afterward, circled around to the best metaphor they could find: Whatever is going on in God is a flow, and radical relatedness, and perfect communion between three; a circle dance of love.”[v] And here’s the really cool part. “God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself.”[vi] And God is the dance of life from the very beginning.

This is where we encounter the Wisdom of Proverbs today. God created and continues to create everything from God’s desire to have a relationship with, to extend God’s internal community with, and to include all of God’s creation in …this circle dance of life. In other words, God is not “other-then” but rather around and within all things. Our lesson from Proverbs for today is a beautiful image of all this.  In it, God creates as a master craftsman, as a skilled artist. And like a skilled artist takes delight in a sculpture or a painting, God takes great delight in the whole of creation.[vii] (even mosquitos)

And surprisingly, though it, pre-dates Jesus by several centuries, there is already hint of God having a counterpart. Our lesson describes “Wisdom” as God’s companion in creation. But more than that, Wisdom is God’s counterpart, not only applauding with joy at every aspect of creation but also working with God to make sure everything fits as a “master craftsman.” might. [viii]  I like the way Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message: “I was right there with him,” Wisdom says, “making sure everything fit. Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause, always enjoying his company, delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family”.[ix]

But what does all this have to do with us? Well, I suspect that in your everyday conversations the idea of God as Trinity doesn’t come up very often. Am I right? It seems like an abstract concept that only theologians and philosophers like to debate. But I’m going to propose that nothing could be further from the truth. The point of our belief in the Trinity is that God is a God of Love, and not just a Love that cherishes from afar, but a Love that acts for us and among us and within us. God is Love, a Love that reaches out to us and seeks a relationship with us; community with us. My friends, this is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world and takes great delight in the human family. And this is a God, our God, who invites each of us to join in the Divine dance, the ever-fluid, ever-moving, ever-flowing dance of life. A life lived here on earth and beyond this life, eternally, forever circling, with the Wisdom of the Creator, Christ, and Spirit.

Amen and the people of God said, Amen!

——————————

[i] Edwards says, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire

[ii] Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, 101: The biblical image of God is “God in community, rich in relationships. ‘God is love.’”

[iii] Alan Brehm. God’s Delight. (www.thewakingdreamer.com) 2013

[iv] Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington: Whitaker House) 2016

[v] Ibid Rohr

[vi] Ibid Rohr

[vii] Pheme Perkins, “Beside the Lord,” The Christian Century (May 17, 1989) 522: “The Lord rejoices in her [Wisdom] as she rejoices in all of creation, including the human race. This image of creation is very different from the mechanical putting-it-together activity that we might regard as part of making something. Creation is shared. It is an object of beauty, order and delight.”  Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 311.

[viii] William P. Brown, “Proverbs 8:22-31,” Interpretation 63 (July 2009) 288: Wisdom is God’s full partner in play, and all creation is hers to enjoy. The world was made for her sake, for her Ibid Rohr God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, 9: “Through the energies and potentialities of the Spirit, the Creator is himself present in his creation. He does not merely confront it in his transcendence; entering into it, he is also immanent in it.”

[ix] Ibid Brehm

Breaking Chains

Luke 24:50-53 Ascension Sunday, 2019

Every Thanksgiving weekend for the past 18 years, Arapaho and Cheyenne youth in Colorado have led a 180-mile relay from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site to Denver. This annual event opens with a sunrise ceremony honoring the indigenous people who lost their lives at that infamous massacre. Now, if you’re unaware of this historical event, the Sand Creek Massacre was brutal assault carried out by the United States Army under the command of Colonel John Chivington on Nov. 29, 1864 in which over 200 Native American men, women, and children lost their lives.

And while the Sand Creek massacre has been the subject of numerous books, much less attention has been paid to two heroes of this terrible event: Captain Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer. Now, these men were heroes not because of what they did but rather, because of what they didn’t do! You see, Soule and Cramer rejected the violence and genocide by disobeying their orders that day. They did so by personally refusing to take part in the murder of innocent people and by ordering the men under their command to stand down. The article I read didn’t go into detail about what happened to them, but one can only assume that there were consequences for their actions.[i]

Now, today’s text, as I said before, describes the Ascension, Christ’s departure from the disciples, and his return to God. But the interesting thing here, to me anyway, is the reaction of the disciples. The text tells us that they were “overwhelmed by joy.” What? For the past four weeks we’ve seen his followers grieving, lost, confused at least until they recognized the Risen Christ in their midst; but overwhelmed with joy at his departure? What’s going on here?

Well, a couple of things actually. First, it’s sometimes reasonable, wise even, to break old patterns. Take Soule and Cramer for example. The dominate narrative of the conquest of the West was that the invaders were civilized, and the indigenous people were savages. But Soule and Cramer were able to see through that false narrative and, despite the consequences, took the appropriate action. In a very real way, by breaking the chain of command, they were symbolically breaking chains of ignorance and oppression. Now, the massacre was carried out in spite of their efforts, but perhaps it was the first glimmer of reason in an otherwise dark and utterly merciless time in our history.

Now, as we look at the disciples, and their unexpected response to Jesus’ departure, like Soule and Cramer, there is a reasonableness in breaking the old pattern. The old pattern was to follow Jesus, an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, listen to his teachings and respond to his example. Right? But that only worked for a while. God incarnate, God in bodily form could only be with them for so long. So, in order to mature in their faith, the disciples needed to begin to find joy, along with praise and worship the text tells us, in an unseen God, an ascended God, a God present in Spirit rather than in the flesh.

And the same is true for us. When we proclaim our faith in God as Spirit, we are participating in the present Reign of God in the here and now. We experience, not the absence of the Divine, but a very real and life transforming manifestation of God. The marvel of all this is that if the Spirit of God is walking with us, then there is no place on our journey that God is not there to greet us, heal us, redeem us, or transform us.

Which leads to the second reason to be “overwhelmed by joy” today: Wisdom. There was a certain amount of wisdom, reason one might call it, displayed by Soule and Cramer and reason played a significant role in the disciples newly found pattern of faith as well. And today, as we look at what it means to the be the Church of the 21st century, I believe that reason must inform our faith as well.

You know, one of my favorite platitudes goes like this, “God gave us reason for a reason.” One example of using reason to challenge old patterns can be found in the history of the United Church of Christ. Specifically, in our decision to no longer blindly follow creeds or doctrines. Now, please don’t misunderstand me here, there is value in doctrine. Doctrines, in a Christian context, are commonly held understandings about the core beliefs of the Church. A good example of this is the doctrine of the incarnation. It’s a pretty basic Christian belief that God was bodily present and is now Spiritually present in the world. The problem with doctrine, however, is when it becomes dogmatic. By dogma I mean using my interpretation of doctrine to judge someone else’s concept of God. That’s why in the United Church of Christ we value a diverse theological understanding and a variety of practices of worship. We choose to be theologically inclusive rather than exclusive.

But what about the creeds? Again, in the United Church of Christ, we choose to honor all the creeds as inspired by God and historically important, and this includes our own Statement of Faith. But the old pattern, the chain that was broken here, was using something like the Apostles’ Creed as a litmus test of one’s faith. Instead, we would prefer to hear “testimonies of faith.” In other words, tell me where you’ve encountered God in the world today? Do you see what I’m driving at here? Faith isn’t monolithic. Each person’s experience of God is different, thus, each of our perspectives on life and faith and the divinity vary. And it’s this diversity of thought and belief that adds to the richness and texture of our church.

It’s kind of like sewing a quilt. I mean, what if every block of the quit was solid white? It would be a pretty boring quilt, wouldn’t it? It would still be a quilt, but, I think, it would lack the ability to spark the interest or the passion of the beholder. Well, in the United Church of Christ we’ve chosen to put together the most colorful quilt we could possibility put sew. A quilt that welcomes people of all colors, ages, nationalities, and lifestyles. It’s a quilt that includes people from all sorts of religious backgrounds or no religious background at all. It’s a quilt that is big enough to include blocks from a diversity of contexts and a variety of cultures. And, my friends, it’s a quilt that big enough to include you, and your life experiences, and your beliefs about God. And this colorful quilt would have never been possible if our fore-bearers had not summoned the courage, perhaps even disobeyed an order or two, to do what was right. If we they had not broken the chains that bound the Church to exclusivism, both culturally and as a denomination, then the quilt we have today would be pretty bland, uninspiring.

But it’s not bland and we’re not uninspired! My friends, as we go forth from this place today, reassured by the presence of God through the Spirit and refreshed by the sacrament, my prayer is that we will be reinvigorated in our passion to welcome all people and to serve God; that we will summon our courage to do what is right, breaking the chains that bind humanity: the chains of oppression, the chains of marginalization, the chains of hate-filled rhetoric that lead to violence against people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees, or our brothers and sisters from other religions. And finally, my hope for all of us, as individuals and as a community of faith, is that in our efforts to loosen the bonds of oppression, we will find, and embrace, an ever-deepening connection with the Source of our faith and learning.

This is hope for all of you. This is my prayer! Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

———————————————————————

[i] Billy J. Stratton, Remembering the U.S. Soldiers Who Refused Orders to Murder Native Americans at Sand Creek. In “The Conversation” (www.sojo.net) 2017

 

Disciples Together

Luke 24:36-49 – Memorial Day Weekend

I read about a man this week who had not seen his family in over 20 years. There had been conflict in the family and decided to leave home and never return. More than 20 years later he had a change of heart and decided to reconcile with his family. He gathered up all his emotional courage and returned home. Now, upon seeing the man at the door, his mother and sisters responded much like the early followers of Jesus when he appeared out of nowhere; startled and fearful. I mean you can understand their reaction, right? This mother and her daughters had not expected to ever see the man again. Their minds must have been reeling. Was it really him? Could he really be back? But finally, their fear gave way to joy, the joy that this son and brother was alive and had returned to them. Throughout their visit the mother and sisters would say to him, “We can’t believe it’s you,” and would touch him and hug him for a sense of verification that it was really him.

Now, in a very real way, that’s how it was with the disciples and Jesus. They had seen Jesus crucified. Many of them had abandoned him in that hour while some had stayed and heard his last breath. Those who had remained removed him from the cross, they felt the cold numbness of his stiff dead body. They had laid him in the tomb and closed it shut. But whether they had remained or left, all of them were grieving. And yet, like the man who returned to his mother and sisters after a 20-year absence, here he was standing before them, flesh and bone, alive and in their presence![I]

But the crux of this story, the brass tacks if you will, comes when we combine the shock and fear and the eventual realization of resurrection, with Jesus’ greeting: “Peace be with you.” Jesus offers these frightened disciples a personal, embodied, unbelievable, incarnational sense of peace. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt connected to God, so in-tune with the divine rhythm, that you actually embodied a sense of inner peace?

Barbara Brown Taylor offered a sermon on this text in which she beautifully describes this embodied experience of Jesus, and the way he drew their attention to his hands and his feet. She poetically recalls the ways the hands and feet of Jesus had been important in his ministry, healing people, breaking bread, traveling around with the good news. Now, wounded and bruised, those same hands and feet were proof to the disciples that, in her words, “…that he had gone through the danger and not around it.”

Through the danger, and not around it. I think we spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find a way around difficult situations, rather than trying to live through them. And who could blame us? Who wants to experience pain or danger, or come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth? And yet, Taylor says, we bear hope for the world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole church all those years ago. We are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today, “Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes but our hands and feet,” she writes, “what we have done with them and where we have gone with them.”[ii]

Our hands and our feet. We are, my friends, the hands and feet of God’s peace in the world today. Far too often I hear Christian media, and I hear in pastoral circles, the articulation of a faith that’s solely based in morality, duty, or a denunciation of the “other” whoever the current “other” may be. The use rules and doctrine build walls that obscure their vision of the poor and the suffering. That’s the “finding a way around danger” that Taylor was talking about. But if we are to take seriously the teaching of Christ and go through the danger, then we must take this idea of being God’s hands and feet, and I would add, God’s heart and voice, seriously as well.

How? Well, we are the hands and feet of peace when we welcome the stranger, when we open our home to the refugee and our heart to the immigrant. We are the hands and feet of peace when we practice justice and promote equality among all people and when we seek to preserve and restore the beauty of nature. We are the hands and feet of peace when we visit the lonely, feed the hungry, house the homeless, or lift-up the downtrodden. We are God’s voice of peace whenever we speak words of kindness and we are God’s heart of peace whenever we participate in acts of compassion.

My friends, “Jesus came to knock down walls and widen the circle of inclusion, rather than draw strict theological and moral lines. It’s not that Jesus had no standards, [of course he did] But his mission was focused on opening God’s [realm] to more and more people.”[iii] And he did that, and continues to do that, by offering the unconditional sense of peace to all people.

You know, a wise friend once told me that there cannot truly be world peace until all people, or at least a vast majority of them, are able to find an inner peace. You see, when we’re out there being God’s hands and feet of peace, it’s not only the other, the one we’re serving, who’s receiving the Peace of Christ, we’re gaining a sense of peace as well. Because peace, inner peace and the ever-widening circles of peace that come as a result of finding inner peace, begin with transformation. The Dalai Lama once said, “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.”[iv] Although it’s difficult, it’s the only way.

My blessing for each of you, as we depart this place today, is this: “May the Peace of God surround you; may the Peace of Christ uphold you; and may the Peace of the Spirit be within you, now, and forever from now. Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

——————————————————————————————————

[i] Minerva Carcano The Good News is for Everyone. (www.Day1.org) 1997.

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor quoted in Love Means Showing Up by Katheryn Matthews (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2018

[iii] Henry G Brinton, “A Welcoming Table,” ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

[iv] H.H. the Dalai Lama in Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanb (Bantam Books, 1991)

Imagine

Luke 24 The Walk to Emmaus

They say misery loves company. I think that’s true. In the hospital nursery it’s called “social crying.” One baby starts crying and all the rest follow suit. In the workplace, one person complains, and all the others join in. Yes, there’s more than a grain of truth to the old adage: “misery loves company.”

In the narrative that we have before us today, two disciples shuffle along, keeping each other company, miserable company, but company, nevertheless. They’re immersed in their sadness, they had left everything behind to follow Jesus and now, he was dead. All was lost and they were headed home. Who can blame them for feeling hopeless? But, at the same time, their grief had blinded them, at least temporarily, to the hope of resurrection. Their loss was all they were willing to embrace. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said. But their faith was foiled by what they considered to be an insufficient evidence of Resurrection.[I]

This is the first point-of-contact with our world that we see in this text; this idea of an “insufficient evidence of resurrection.” What does that mean? Well, I believe in order to get-at the meaning here, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What does resurrection mean to me? Well, maybe it’s not that simple of a question after all. I mean, is resurrection only an old story about the physical resuscitation of an iterate Rabbi who was executed because he dared challenge the powers-that-be? Or is resurrection something more.

Something more. In ancient Celtic Christianity they often referred to God as “the more.” I like that. I like it because it alludes to the mysterious nature of God of which we can know only bits and pieces. And resurrection is one of these pieces. A piece that by its very nature indicates the presence of God. A Presence that we have come to understand as within, around, and through all of life; even when, maybe especially when, life is difficult. So, resurrection then, is about taking those places in our lives and places in the world around us, those dark and painful, isolating places; it’s about taking those Emmaus Road, misery-loves-company moments, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit. How do I know this? I know because in my own life I have experienced Christ; not as some distant event in the past, or some dusty old doctrine, but as a real, Living Presence. A Presence, an Energy, a Consciousness, that is both beyond words and yet as real as the very breath I draw.

And, as you already know, this is where our two Emmaus Road travelers ended up as well. At first, they didn’t recognize Jesus and perhaps they might even have passed right by him if not for a culturally defined expectation to provide hospitality. That’s the second point-of-contact with our world: hospitality. It was the custom, the tradition of people in that day and age to provide hospitality to anyone who darkened their door. And these disciples displayed that expectation of hospitality by not only walking with the stranger but inviting him to share in a meal and stay the night.

Now, as you know, the expectation of hospitality in our time is very different. But I would argue not completely absent. I co-lead a mission trip a number of years ago to the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina. Now, we didn’t know what our work detail would be until we arrived. It turned out that our task was to replace a leaky roof on an old house. Luckily, it was a fairly flat roof, so it wasn’t overly difficult for this group of teen-aged kids to move around and work. That is, except for one young girl in particular. Hanna. Hanna was terrified of heights and no matter how much encouragement or coxing she received, scaling that ladder was out-of-the-question. So, as you might imagine, Hanna found herself disconnected from the rest of the group. Yes, she was our ground support, gofer if you will, but that occupied very little of her time. But you know what? Hanna made the best of it. You see, the residents of the house included two little boys and as the week progressed, Hanna filled her day with imaginative ways of befriending them. She playing with them, read to them; Hanna made them feel special, wanted. And this was confirmed on the very last day, when saying our goodbyes, one of the little boys came up to Hanna and whispered something in her ear. Later, as we were on our way home, someone asked Hanna, “What did he whisper?” To which, Hanna shyly smiled, and said, “I love you.”

I shared this story with you today for a couple of reasons. First, I believe Hanna demonstrated what hospitality should look like in our world. She met those two boys right where they were at and she showed them unconditional love. And for the rest of us, it doesn’t matter if we’re listening to a friend vent, or working at the food pantry, or visiting a lonely person, or helping out at the Humane Society; if we can connect with people on a personal level, without hesitation or judgment, and if we can show that person the unconditional love that we have experienced from our creator; then we are practicing hospitality.

That’s the first lesson from Hanna, and the second is this: Hanna was imaginative in her hospitality. When faced with a situation in which she could have pouted or done nothing, she chose to think beyond the pale, coming up with a constructive way to serve in that context. And its imagination that brings us to the third and final point of contact between the Emmaus Road experience way back then and our experience of the Risen Christ here in our time. In the narrative, in spite of their misery-loves-company attitude, and over and above the expectation of hospitality, there must have been some vague memory emerge when Jesus blessed and broke the bread for their meal. Because it was in that moment that they came to understand the true power of resurrection. It was in what we call the sacrament, that “the More” became real to them.

Isn’t that interesting? Jesus only became known through teaching and sacrament. But perhaps we sometimes try to limit what qualifies as teaching or sacrament. Maybe we should consider expanding the concept of teaching and the meaning of sacrament for our time. I mean, is there sacrament, a sacred space or time, beyond the communion table or the baptismal font? Can Divine Wisdom come from many places, many people, from a diverse collection of religious or philosophical texts; might God be revealed through everyday conversations, with everyday people, in our everyday context? Can God come-to-life in new and imaginative ways?

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I think it would be a worthwhile task to explore them. And maybe, just maybe, if we begin to explore and experience teaching and sacrament in a new way, maybe we will begin to imagine a world where all people live in peace and practice justice; a world where there is no place for greed or hunger or homelessness; maybe we could even imagine a time when all people choose to coexist with nature and each other.

And all of this brings us back around, full circle, to the words of John Lennon; words that I echo still today. “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

May it be so, for you and for me.

Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

————————————————————————-

[i] Alyce McKenzie Saying No to Mrs. Bidemeier (www.patheos.com)2014

Life -Giving Acts

John 21:1-19     Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day. A day set-aside to honor our mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! But, in recent years, I’ve started expanding this celebration to include aunts, grandmas, or any woman who has stepped-up to nurture young people along the way. I started this because it’s become apparent to me that the configuration, the very definition of what it means to “be a family” family has changed, evolved. The “basic family unit” doesn’t always consist of a mom, a dad, 2.3 children, and a golden retriever. In many cases, family doesn’t have anything to do with blood relationships at all. Rather, family often consists of people there for each other through thick and thin. It’s not my place to judge this reality, simply to recognize it and honor it.

So, it’s with this expanded understanding of family that we celebrate Mother’s Day, and, interestingly enough, this broad definition of family also makes its way into the story that we have before us today. This resurrection appearance narrative from the end of John’s Gospel is commonly called the “Breakfast by the Sea.” And, as I indicated before, there’s a whole lot more going here than just breakfast.

First the obvious. Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times in the fear and darkness of Good Friday. But here, in the light of morning, in this intimate seaside setting, Peter is forgiven with a three-fold assurance of restoration. But notice something here, after each reassertion of the question comes a call to action: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Peter’s charge is to put his love for Jesus into swift, concrete action.

That’s the obvious connection to the rest of John’s narrative, but there’s also a less obvious, more subtle, sub-text as well. This threefold act of forgiveness and subsequent charge to feed and tend humanity isn’t disconnected from the previous story. Let’s look at the sequence of events that led up to Peter’s conversation with Jesus. The disciples had gone back to their livelihood, fishing. Jesus appeared on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. He gave them a command to “cast their nets into deeper water” and when they complied, the disciples witnessed a miracle of abundance. They recognized Jesus in that moment. He then immediately served them a breakfast of fish and bread.

Lets’ see. Where have we seen a miracle of abundance using fish and loves before? Yep. The feeding of the 5,000. We’re also reminded in our context of communion, right? But it goes even deeper than that! We, like the disciples of old, often miss Jesus in our midst. After we leave worship we go back to our livelihood, we go back to our beach, even when we’ve had a life-changing, perspective-altering experience of the divine, at some point, we must go back to our routine. And you know what, that’s alright.

The deeper lesson here, however, is to incorporate our experience of the divine, our moments of recognition, into our everyday lives. How? By symbolically casting our nets into deeper waters; by loving all of God’s people and by tending the blessing of this beautiful creation. A love, as I said before, that’s expressed through action. How do we know this? Because both of the Greek words interpreted as “love” in today’s text are verbs. Agape, God’s unconditional love, and Phillios, humanity’s love for one another, are both actions words. So, Peter literally says, “Yes Love, you know that I am loving you.” To which Jesus responds in essence, “then go and love my lambs in the same way.” This is important! It’s important because this is our charge as people of faith. We are called and challenged both as individuals and as a community to seek out and incorporate new and innovate ways to love. Which brings us back around, full circle, to this idea of an expanded definition of family.

You know, I was given a glimpse this week of this very thing from a most unexpected source. Manny. I was in the kitchen doing something and Manny was in the living room playing Fortnite with his friends. I think need to pause here for a little explanation before I go on. If you’ve been to our house, you know that the kitchen and the living room are really the same room, so it was easy to hear what he was saying. And when I say playing Fortnite with his friends, you need to understand that he was on his Nintendo Switch with headphones on so he could communicate with the other players. Okay. So, here I am in the kitchen/living room, when I hear Manny say, “Don’t shoot my family!” Now, to a non-gamer like me, that was a little bit disturbing and demanded an explanation. Well, it turns out that Becky and I were not under threat, but rather that Manny considered his friends from school, who were on his team, family.

Isn’t that interesting? The configuration of family can come in countless ways. On the shore of the Tiberius Sea, over two thousand years ago, Jesus served his family breakfast. Not his mother or his brothers, but those who had been with him on the journey. He then sent them out with a charge to treat, dare I say “consider,” all of his lambs, all of his sheep, all of humanity as family.

I mean, what if I were to expand my definition of family to include all of you. That’s not a huge stretch of the imagination. Traditionally, church folks have referred to each other as sister or brother. But what about those beyond our congregation? What if I were to consider a Catholic priest as my brother? Or a Jewish Rabbi? Or a Muslim Imam? Might my perspective on the world change, dare I say for the better? What if I were to consider a woman who’s struggling to feed her four children, four children from four different, broken relationships as my sister? Might I then have more compassion for her situation? What if I were to consider a veteran living on the streets because his untreated PTSD as my brother? Might I then find my voice and demand change? What if I were to consider a lonely woman living out her days lost in the confusion of dementia as my grandmother? Might I be moved to visit her? What if I were to consider all those innocent children being “detained” on our Southern border as my own children? Might I then be moved to demand justice?

Do you see what I’m driving at here? When we consider another person, any person, as family, we’re far less likely to write them off, or to ignore their suffering, or to hate them because their different.

My friends, Jesus is saying to each of us, “do you love me?” And when we love our neighbor, when we love the least of God’s lambs, and when we find a way to love those who society considers unlovable, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and when we act to demonstrate that love; we are answering the call with a resounding, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

This is my prayer for all of us.

Happy Mother’s Day and Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Creation

Psalm 104 (selected readings)

Ecological activist and author Bill McKibben suggests that “environmental devastation stands as the single great crisis of our time, surpassing and encompassing all others.”[I] If he’s correct, or even close to being correct, then Psalm 104 may be more important now than in all its centuries of existence. In a word, McKibben’s proposal for beginning to move toward solutions through Creation Justice is this: “Humility, first and foremost.”[ii]

Psalm 104 puts humankind, as it were, “in its place.” To be sure, biblically speaking, humanity occupies a special place in the created order, but not the only place! Psalm 104 is an eloquent reminder that we human beings share our space with a vast array of God’s “works,” including an “earth … full of [God’s] creations,” Humility then, lays at the heart of the Psalm that we have before us.

And it is with a humble spirit that we are invited to approach one of the Psalmist’s greatest creation poems. Psalm 104 reminds its early readers and us still today, that the Bible has a deep interest in the wondrous creation of God. And this is an important reminder, especially in this time of environmental peril and continued cosmic destruction.

When I was in elementary school, we paid very little attention, if any, to matters of the environment. I do remember, however, the first time we observed Earth Day in our school. We went out to the “back-forty” and planted trees, which was a good thing, but it was also an all-too-brief time concern. Other concerns crowded saving the planet out of our minds. Our newly planted forest became just a backdrop to a newly-constructed baseball field.

Society seemed to forget also. The “Me-Generation” of the 1980s, the rise of non-state terrorism in the ’90s, culminating in the attacks of 9/11. We were, of course, concerned about and aware of all those crucial events, and rightly so. But all the while the environment and this emerging understanding of global climate change, got very little attention from Western Culture as a whole.

But, a few years back, something interesting began to happen. Some of us in the faith community, clergy and lay alike, began to understand climate change as a theological and as a justice issue. We began to understand that this planet, and all that lives upon it, are beloved by God. We began to understand that while climate change is a problem that will affect all of us, it will devastate the poor of this world disproportionately. And we began to understand that if we, being the good people of this earth that we are; that if we do nothing, then, as Edmund Burke warned, “evil will triumph.”

Unfortunately, more broadly, the Church still paid very little attention to climate change and ignored the Biblical mandate to care for creation. I read somewhere that this was because pagan devotion, as found among the Canaanites, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians of the ancient world, was focused on nature. Their centeral theme was on the changing seasons, and the life-giving or life-threatening weather that these seasons produced. So, in an attempt to “not-be-like-them” it was concluded that the Israelites should primarily worship a God of history, the One who saved Israel from exile, and who finally, through the new covenant, gave humanity the gift of Jesus. All good things! But as a result of this historical focus, nature was reduced to a backdrop in the human saga.

But here we are in 2019 and the landscape is changing, quite literally. So, it’s time now to shelve this truncated idea about God’s relationship to nature. God is not only the creator of human beings, but God created the whole world; its plants, its hills and forests and oceans, its wild and domesticated creatures, everything! That’s why this “updated” way of thinking is called a cosmic understanding of God. Cosmic in the sense that God is in, around, and through all things.

Now, we don’t have to look very far to see that the Bible reinforces this idea. Let me give you some examples. Do you remember John 3:16? John’s famous football verse that seems to flash between the goalposts at every NFL game. Well, John 3:16 isn’t only about you and me. In fact, the most accurate Greek rendering of that verse is, “God so loved the cosmos that God sent God’s only son in order that all might be ‘made whole’ again.” And it’s no coincidence that we find this same cosmic concern in Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Colossians. And even in the final chapter of infamous Book of Revelation we see the natural world play a primary role.

Which leads us back to Psalm 104. It’s a virtual catalogue of the wonders of Divine creation. It’s a cosmic overview of the world’s wind and water, and plants and animals; from birds, to cattle to mountain storks, and of course – goats. Goats are awesome!

Annie Dillard, the author of a wonderful book called A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, says that “God, loves pizzazz!” I like that thought. Indeed, God loves, adores creation, all of it, all the clacking and the buzzing, the whistling and the howling, the shouting, the laughing and the weeping, and yes, the pizzazz of it all. And so should we.

If we are to help save our aching earth, if we are to repent, which literally means “turn around”, and make the necessary life-changes to begin to restore this beautiful creation that we have been blessed with, then we must first love it, as God loves it.

Do you remember when God said to Job, in a glorious, but at the same time, frustrated response, “It is not all about you, Job! It is about mountain goats, (there’s goats again) and ravens, and even ostriches.” You see, Job had demanded that God execute Job’s version of justice, and God’s response was, “Have a look at my ostrich!” Now, even though it might seek like God’s answer came out-of-left-field, it actually didn’t. I think it’s important that we all take a longer look at God’s ostrich, at God’s soil, at God’s mountains. And we must love them all. Because if we don’t, God’s great gift of creation will wither, and retreat, and dry up, and we will have destroyed our home. [iii]

One final thought, climate change is a local issue and it’s a global issue; it’s an individual issue requiring a personal response, but it’s also a community issue, calling for a unified voice of responsibility. Unfortunately, global climate change has also become a political issue, and therefore by definition in our time, a divisive issue.

But, even so, the time to deny climate change is now past. There’s no debate on whether global climate change exists and whether or not humanity has played a significant role in causing these changes, it does and we have! So, instead of denying the problem it seems to me that we should face it head-on. The actual debate should be “who will go the furthest?” Who can go the farthest in working to transition our society to new forms of energy, and methods of production in both manufacturing and agricultural settings? Who will go the furthest in changing their everyday living habits? Who will come up with the most innovative and imaginative ideas about how to move forward? Who will honor God, and God’s creation by loving the earth? And finally, who will restore hope to our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children? The question is finally rests with each of us my friends, and the question is this: “How far will you go?”

Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

——————————————————–

[i] Bill McKibben, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job and the Scale of Creation  (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2005), 15.

[ii] Ibid. 32

[iii] John Hobart. A Song for Creation (www.pathos.com) 2011

Resurrection Joy

Easter Sunday 2019

I would like to begin today by sharing Joy’s story. Joy was a typical high school junior. She worries about things like cheerleading, grades, what other girls posted on social media, and, of course, about prom. Joy had a new boyfriend, Tommy, they had gone out a couple of times, he seemed nice, and he had asked her to the prom.

But suddenly, everything changed. During a routine physical the doctor found something she didn’t like. After a cat-scan and a biopsy, Joy was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery replaced cheerleading and chemotherapy eclipsed any thoughts about the prom. That is, until the morning of prom rolled around, and Joy awoke to discover that she had lost all her hair. She we inconsolable. There was no time to have a decent wig made, and she dismissed any talk of buying a costume wig, or wearing a scarf, or a hat. Instead Joy insisted she was going stay home. She called Tommy to share her decision, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I’ll be there at 5,” he insisted, “be ready to go.”

Well, Joy reluctantly put on her prom dress and waited for 5pm to roll around. And, right on time, the door bell rang. It was her date, dressed in a black tux with corsage in hand, and to Joy’s shock and amazement, her date, standing there in her doorway, had not one stand of hair on his head. You see, he had shaved his head so Joy would not feel out-of-place. But that’s not the end of the story. He then invited her to step out into the yard, where the entire cheerleading squad, along with their dates, were waiting for her. And like Tommy, they too had all shaved their heads. It was in that moment, for the first time since her diagnoses, that Joy didn’t feel alone.

As we consider Joy’s story this morning, I can’t help but this of Mary Magdalene as stood before the empty tomb. Like Joy, I think she must have felt alone, isolated, hopeless. Grief does that. Grief isolates us, it causes us to turn in on ourselves and build walls to keep others out.

But I can also imagine the look on Mary’s face in that moment of epiphany; that moment when Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” One word, and she knew. One word, and Mary know the power of resurrection. And it was through one act of extravagant kindness, that Joy came to know the power of resurrection as well.

You see, for us here in the 21st century, the resurrection narrative doesn’t end with an empty tomb; isn’t finally about angels, or gardeners, or even about physical resuscitation. Resurrection is about the presence of God within, around, and through all of life. Resurrection is about taking those places in our lives, those dark and painful, isolating places, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit.

After Mary left the tomb and went back to the disciples and shared what she had witnessed, they too became convinced that Jesus was a living and present God. The Apostle Paul thought so as well. In Paul’s writings the Living Christ and the Holy Spirit are never separated; for Paul the two are the same. So, when he says, “Not I, but Christ who dwells within me,” he is talking about the same Spirit that you and I can experience in our lives.

And, my friends, this is way I believe passionately in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because in my own life I have experienced Christ not as some distant event in the past or dusty old doctrine, but as a very real presence.  William Slone Coffin expresses this same theological understanding in his book Credo. He says that “…today, on Easter, we gather not, as it were, to close the show with the tune “Thanks for the Memories” but rather to reopen the show with the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”[I]

So, here’s the pressing question surrounding all this: How do we know that resurrection is something we experience? How can I tell that the Living Christ, the very Spirit of God is present in the world today?

Well, the presence of God, what we pastor types like to call the revelation of God, comes to us in many ways. We can experience God in nature, for example. Who here hasn’t felt the veil between God and humanity become a little thinner on a beautiful fall day in the woods? We can also experience God through relationship, through the other people we encounter as we walk this earth. God can also be revealed through art, through music, through communal worship or personal prayer, or whenever we take a moment to quiet our minds and open our being to listen for the still-small voice. My friends, God is Still-Speaking in the world today, our task is to listen and then respond.

I’m going to conclude my remarks today by focusing on our response. Specifically, our response to the resurrected presence of God as a faith community. Community is the key word here. Like the girl from our opening illustration, Joy’s disease isolated her from her primary community. And we all know that there are many, many people in our midst who feel isolated, alone, outside the love of God. It’s true. For any number of reasons, many people they feel they are not worthy of God’s love, and therefore by extension, not worth of the Church’s embrace. That why our calling as a faith community is to reach-out with an extravagant welcome to all people. No one, people, no one is outside the Grace of God, period. And it’s our task, our calling as a people of faith to share that message.

How? Well, when we become an Open and Affirming congregation, (Well, when we grew into a congregation that opens its arms to embrace everyone,) we said to LGBTQ people, you’re not alone. When we support the food pantry, we’re saying to those who are hungry, those whose bills have out-distanced their pay-check, those who have had to choose between medication and food, you’re not alone. When we give to our United Church of Christ special offerings, I’m thinking especially about OGHS, we’re saying to those here in our nation and around the globe who have been displaced by natural disaster or war or famine; you’re not alone. And when we invite someone who’s on the outside-looking-in, for whatever reason, we, like the bald-headed-cheerleaders who embraced Joy, are saying; you’re not alone. And there are so many more examples I can’t even list them all. But the essence of what I’m saying here is that when we open our arms and hearts to a wide diversity of people, we’re saying to anyone who will listen, “even when you’re by yourself, you’re not alone.”

My friends, as we continue to live-into our resurrection calling, may we do so with the Grace of God, the Compassion of the Christ, and in the Presence of the Spirit. My prayer for each one of you here today, is that if you feel isolated from your community, for whatever reason, if you feel like you’re the one whose on the outside-looking-in, that you will indeed experience the presence of the Divine, feel the nearness of the Spirit, and that you will hear the cry of this congregation, saying to you, “you’re not alone.”

My friends, it is with great enthusiasm, and passion, and with a hopeful spirit that I wish all of you, a very meaningful and joyful Easter. Amen, and the people of God said, “Amen

——————————————————————-

[i] William Slone Coffin Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) pg. 28

Shouting Stones

A Celebration of the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Luke 19:28-40

I wonder if we give Palm Sunday its proper due?

Why? Well, the story of Palm Sunday, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry,” is featured in all four gospels. The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover celebration, the story of a humble donkey, of shouting crowds, branches, coats and cloaks spread like a carpet upon the road, this story has center stage in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now, making the cut in all four gospels, that’s a big deal, biblically speaking anyway. I mean, Christmas didn’t even make it into all four gospels for crying out loud. We find birth narratives only in Matthew and Luke. The prayer that Jesus taught his followers, the prayer the church has recited over the course of more than two thousand years; the Lord’s Prayer. It only made the cut in two gospels. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are found only in Luke’s account. And finally, The Beatitudes, you know, blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, blessed are the poor; only two gospels. But the Palm Sunday story, the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, this story is retold in all four gospels. [I]

Which makes me wonder if we’ve overlooked the importance of this event in the past. I mean, over the course of the past couple of decades, there’s been a movement in protestant churches to piggy-back the passion story with the triumphal entry. It’s actually listed in the Revised Common Lectionary as Passion/Palm Sunday. And I can see the rational. Some have called it the “celebration to celebration” problem. In other words, many people come to church on Palm Sunday, like today, and it’s a time of celebration. Most then skip the holy week services altogether, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then return to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Easter. The challenge here is that we miss the darkness of Christ’s journey through holy week. The Passion Story is a journey that takes us through the upper room, into the anguish and betrayal of the garden, and deposits us on the steps of the Temple to witness Christ’s arrest and trial, his humiliation and suffering, and of course, the heart-ache of his execution on the Cross. So, many-a-theologian has thought, “Hey, let’s cram it all into the Palm Sunday service.”

But, as you can probably tell from my tone, I’ve never been a fan of Passion/Palm Sunday. I think we need to celebrate for a while. I think we need to bask in the joy of this moment. I think we need to let the Triumphal Entry story stand on its own. Why? Well, in order to answer that question, I think we need first to set-the-scene.

The ancient city of Jerusalem during the annual Passover festival was a lot like Cable during the Burkie. Our town swells with visitors from all over the world. It’s alive, abuzz, international, exciting. Every possible room is rented at a premium price and Rondeau’s have stocked their shelves to capacity. There are vendors selling their wares as nearly everyone makes their way to the starting area. It seems like the whole world has come to Cable; or rather, to Jerusalem. Expectation was in the air.

Now, this is why I think the Triumphal Entry story is so important! Up until this point in the gospel narratives, the followers of Jesus had been just that: followers, largely passive, reflective. I mean, when Jesus argued with the religious officials, I can imagine the disciples watching, tense and riveted. When Jesus defended a prostitute, they must have gasped. When he conversed in public with a woman from Samaria, they winced. When he defied the Sabbath laws, they cringed. When he declared that the last shall be first, the first last, and challenged the commonly held understandings of the day; understanding of clean and unclean, of rich and poor, of outsider and insider; I can imagine the disciples quickly glancing around to see who was listening. When Jesus heals a leper and as he restores those with mental illness, with broken bodies or spirits; the disciples must have whispered to each other with fascinated awe.[ii]

But on that first Palm Sunday, with the gathering crowds all around them like Cable at Burkie time, we see a shift occur; we see a transformation begin to take place. As they enter Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers became leaders. Yes, there would still be challenges as they grew into this new role. Most of the disciples would scatter later that week and Peter would deny even knowing Christ three times. But despite these setbacks, Palm Sunday, in my mind, is the day that the followers of Jesus found their voices, summoned their courage, and assumed their role as champions for God’s Reign of justice and peace; vessels of Christ’s compassion, grace and forgiveness, and tellers of the Divine story. And here in Luke’s version of events, in recognition that the disciples had found their voice, Jesus says, “I tell you, even if these bystanders were to keep silent, the stones themselves would shout!”

So, where does this leave us? As today’s disciples, as post-modern leaders of this ever-changing, ever-evolving entity with call the Church, what are we shouting

Now, at this point, I need some help up here. I want all the young people to come up here once again, no rabbit this time, but I want you all to be our “shouting stones.” Every time I say, “can I get an amen?” I want you to shout, “amen.” Let’s practice. Can I get an amen? Amen. Okay. Here we go.

We’re shouting stones when we open the door for someone who’s on the outside looking in; when we provide an extravagant and wide welcome to everyone. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when we us our voices to speak-up for the oppressed, when we speak-out against racism, against hatred; when we use our voices to speak for the voiceless; the immigrant, the refugee, the child in a cage on the border. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when we seek justice for all of God’s people; when we celebrate the diversity of humankind, our many colors and languages and faith traditions; we become shouting stones when we live in peace and harmony with one another and encourage others to do the same. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when seek environmental justice. When we use our voice and our vote, our hands and our feet, to work toward conserving creation rather than destroying it; when we make sacrifices to limit the lasting effects of global climate change for our grandchildren and their children. Can I get and amen?

And finally. We’re shouting stones when take the gospel seriously. When we attempt to live-into and reflect Christ’ command to love one another; to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Can I get an amen?

My friends, Palm Sunday is a time of celebration. A time when we celebrate the beginning of Christ’s journey through the darkness and into the light of the Resurrection. May each of us here today, symbolically, take this trek as well. May we emerge from whatever darkness is surrounding us into the Light of Easter; into the restoration and healing of God; into a Resurrection of Life.

May it be so for you and for me. Amen& amen.

————————————

[i] Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor Players and Protagonists in the Kingdom of God (www.Day1.org) 2016

[ii] Ibid. Taylor

Weathering Storms

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Who has ever heard of Wikipedia? Show of hands. Well, if you haven’t or aren’t really sure what it is: “Wikipedia is a multilingual online encyclopedia with exclusively free content, based on open collaboration through a model of content edit by web-based applications like web browsers, called wiki. It is the largest and most popular general reference work on the Web.”[i] Do you know where I go this information about Wikipedia? Wikipedia.

Now, this isn’t humanity’s first attempt to accumulate “all-knowledge.” There was the Great Library of Alexandria, for example. It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution and quickly grew by acquiring a large number of papyrus scrolls. Now, it’s unknown precisely how many scrolls were housed there, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height. And because of this great gathering of information, Alexandria became known as the capital of knowledge and learning in the third and second centuries BCE.

Side note: Despite the widespread modern belief that the Library was “burned” and instantly destroyed, the Library actually declined gradually over the course of several centuries, starting with the purging of intellectuals from Alexandria in 145 BCE. Given, the Library, or part of its collection, was accidentally burned by Julius Caesar in 48 BCE, it’s actually unclear how much was destroyed and it seems to have either survived or been rebuilt shortly thereafter.[ii]

Anyway, burned or declined, the Library of Alexandria was, historically, one the great attempts to gather all knowledge. By the way, guess where I got this information on the Library of Alexandria? That’s right, Wikipedia!

But what do these attempts to gather knowledge have to do with Jeremiah and the New Covenant? Well, Jeremiah says in this passage, “They will no longer need to teach each other to say, ‘Know the Lord!’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And, according to the Prophet, God will do this by putting God’s Instructions within us and engraving them on our hearts.

What a powerful image! I mean, think about it! God’s instructions, God’s law it says in some versions of the Bible, IS actually engraved upon our hearts! In other words, according to Jeremiah, we should know what God wants us to do; we should know right from wrong, good from bad, innately. Deep within in our very being, we should know when something is ethically questionable or morally corrupt. The very Instruction of God is within each and everyone of us.

So, what happened? Why is the world so corrupt? Why does the human experience range from ethically questionable to down-right disgusting? When did humanity lose the ability to access these engraved instructions?

Well, I would contend that we haven’t. Instead, it’s a matter of keeping things in proper perspective. Do you remember the Genesis story about the Tower of Babel? Humanity tried to build to tower to make themselves equal with God, which, of course, isn’t possible so, the tower fell. By the way, I didn’t get that one from Wikipedia.

But the point of this teaching is that however we view God, whether it’s as a being, or a consciousness, or as the energy that lies within, thru, and around every atom of the universe; God by definition must but be, at least partially if not mostly, beyond our comprehension. Jeremiah didn’t say, “all the wisdom of God would be given to us, but instead, that God’s Instructions, God’s law, the moral and ethical understanding that we need to be better people who desire to make this world a better place, would be installed within us, engraved upon our hearts.

Which brings us back around to the accumulation of knowledge. The Library of Alexandria, and Wikipedia for that matter, are not bad things in and of themselves. On a personal level, I have dedicated most of my adult life to the pursuit of gaining a better understanding moral philosophy, humanity’s relationship with the Divine, and all things Spiritual. And I feel like what little knowledge I have gained through the years has been a worthy endeavor. And on a broader scale, I firmly believe the rise of anti-intellectualism that I have witnessed in my lifetime is one of the greatest dangers we face as a nation and a global community. It’s easy to deny a problem or blame it on someone else in a tweet. It’s a far greater thing, however, to think our way through the challenges that face us, and then act to correct them.

But that being said, if we try to put our accumulation of knowledge above the deep-seated instruction of God, we get into trouble. Like the tower-builders of old, it all comes tumbling down. Why? Well, think about it! If I think I know more that God then I kind of set myself up as a god, right? And if I’m a god than my self-interest, my self-fulfillment, will naturally lead to my grabbing all the power and wealth and notoriety that I can.

The Instruction, the law, that God engraved upon our hearts, however, leads us in the opposite direction. God’s instructions, which we can come to understand through the teachings and actions of Jesus, include things like humility, the pursuit of peace and justice for everyone and all of creation, faith and hope, reconciliation and restoration, …resurrection. The Apostle Paul expounded upon these virtues in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, when he said in essence that faith, hope, and love abide within each of us, but “the greatest of these,” he said, “is love.”

And my friends, that’s where we’ve come in this great evolution of God’s covenant with humanity. God is love. And our task as individuals, as a faith community, and as people in general, is to reflect God’s love in the world today. We are called to live-into God’s engraved instructions in all of our relationships; with those in our own home, with those who live next door, and with those who live across the globe. The greatest knowledge we can pursue, my dear friends, is the Love of God and how to share that love, every day.

And if we do that, if we share God’s Love consistently, both as individuals and as a people, God says to us, “I will be YOUR God, and YOU will be my people and I will forgive YOUR wrongdoing and never again remember YOUR sins.”

May it be so for you and for me.

Amen & Amen.

[i] www.wikipedia,org

[ii] www.wikipedia,org