Spirit for All

Acts 2:1-21

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re driving in the car and listening to the radio and you become so engrossed in the story that even though you’ve arrived at your destination, you can’t leave the car until you’ve heard the end? I’ve heard some people call these “driveway moments.” Isn’t it interesting? One moment you’re driving in your car, minding your own business, and boom! A “driveway moment” suddenly touches your heart or changes your perspective on life.

Now, I read about such a “driveway” moment this past week. Rev. Scott Kenefake tells a story about listening to a radio program called Tapestry. Now, if you haven’t heard of Tapestry, it exclusively features programming related to spirituality, faith, and religion. Anyway, the program’s host was interviewing former chef, religious skeptic, and journalist named Sara Miles, about her unexpected and inconvenient “driveway moment.” Her driveway moment wasn’t in her car, but rather came as she entered a church, on impulse, in San Francisco one Sunday.

You see, Miles was raised in a non-religious family and she was happily living an “enthusiastically secular life” as a restaurant cook and journalist, indifferent to religion at best. As she says in the Prologue to her book, Take This Bread, “I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian…. Or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut.”[1] But as she entered the doors of St. Gregory Episcopal Church in San Francisco on a whim and ate a piece of bread and took a sip of wine, she found herself radically transformed. At the age of 46 this was her first communion and it changed everything.

I share this with you today because on Pentecost we focus on biblical stories in which God’s Spirit, God’s presence with us, encounters ordinary human beings in wonderful and unexpected ways. Encounters that have the potential to change everything.

Pentecost is, of course, the birthday of the church. Historically, however, it was an important Jewish festival. It was one of three “pilgrimage” festivals that were ideally spent in Jerusalem. Pentecost occurred fifty days after Passover serving as the commemoration of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. It recalled, not only the giving of the covenant to Israel at Mt. Sinai, but also the creation of a new kind of community; a radically different way of living after Egypt.

Early Christians incorporated these themes into our understanding of Pentecost as well. In post-modern Christianity, “The central affirmation of Pentecost is that the Spirit promised by Jesus is now present among his followers and in the world. The Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. This claim is foundational to the New Testament and early Christianity.”[2]

And we see this played out in the story we have before us today. Luke, the author of Acts, used the symbols of wind and fire to engage a diverse group of Pentecost pilgrims. Pilgrims who spoke a variety of different languages because they were from various parts of the Roman Empire. But Luke tells us that they were suddenly enabled by the Spirit to comprehend a universally understood language. In essence this is a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel that we find in Genesis, where the narrator says, “The Lord confused the language of all the earth.”

So, Luke is saying in this narrative that Pentecost is the beginning of the reunification of humanity; the creation of a new kind of community in the Church. And a once timid, frightened, and discouraged group of Jesus’ followers, his disciples, suddenly become forceful, confident, and unified advocates, sharing their experience of the risen Christ.

But, unfortunately, the Church has not always followed suit. In the book that inspired the video series we’re watching in Bible Study, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, David Felten and Jeff Proctor Murphy share the following thoughts.

“In many faith traditions,” they write, “it is tradition itself that is worshipped, held up as the whole purpose of the religious enterprise. Be it infatuation with ‘smells and bells’ or resistance to inclusive language, many faithful people have confused defense of their understanding of right practice and right thinking with what they call faith. They insulate themselves from the unpredictable, demanding, transforming nature of the Spirit with a fierce, pious, unbending commitment to the church. They practice what Richard Rohr has called a ‘cosmetic piety’ intended to look good on the surface but lacking any real depth or complexity. Defense of the changeless nature of their revealed truth becomes a virtue to be aspired to, regardless of how lifeless and rote the practice itself becomes.”[3]

Do you see what their driving at here? When we let the rules, or the dogma, or the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” rule the day, we cease to be moved by the Spirit. But, if we are able to understand our history and tradition in its proper context and allow ourselves as a community to indwell the Spirit of the Living God, unexpected and wonderful things can happen.

That was the experience of Sara Miles, you remember, the enthusiastic atheist, who had no intention of becoming a follower of Jesus.  That is, until she met him as a living reality, in the bread and wine of the sacrament. How did this encounter change her life?Well, she started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal around the same altar where she first received communion. She then organized new pantries all over the city to provide hundreds of hungry families with free groceries each week. Without committees or meetings or even an official telephone number, she recruited scores of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.[4]

My friends, the Spirit of the Living God, described in scripture by the symbols of wind, fire, and breath, radically transformed Sara Miles’ life and her community. When the spirit is active and present, it’s not just about, “me,” but about, “we.” It’s about the creation of a new kind of inclusive, welcoming, community based on love.

But Sara Miles also discovered that her newly transformed life wasn’t necessarily going to be easy. She had to trudge in the rain through housing projects, sit on the curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man, take the firing pin out of a battered woman’s .357 Magnum, then stick the gun in a cookie tin in the trunk of her car, and struggle with her family and friends, who thought she’d lost her mind. Sara also came face to face with the politics of food, the economy of hunger, and the rules of money.[5]

The point of all this is that the Spirit brings change! My friends, being a person of faith “…is not about things we should or shouldn’t do, or even about being nice. It’s about reveling in the beauty of creation, it’s about taking part in the wonderment of it all by living, loving, and being. It’s about embracing the pain and suffering of the world and transforming it into new life. It’s about harnessing the creative Spirit that is so much a part of what it means to be human.”[6]

And in our human-ness, maybe because of our human-ness, God provides us with countless “driveway moments.” Opportunities each and every day to be and become more than we currently are. Opportunities to reach out beyond ourselves, sharing the love and grace and compassion of Christ with our neighbor, whoever or where ever that neighbor may be. Opportunities to hear, if we listen hard enough, for the Still-Speaking voice of God.  A voice that reassures us that the Spirit is alive and active in the world today and is bringing renewal and revitalization within and beyond the Church.

I’m going to leave you today with a quote from Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,” He once said. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Through the indwelling of the Spirit, may we all “come alive!”

Amen.

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[1] Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, Ballantine Books, 2008, Prologue

[2] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Power-And How They Can Be Restored, Harper One, 2011, p. 184

[3] David M. Felten and Jeff Proctor-Murphy, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, Harper One, 2012, pp. 211, 212

[4] saramiles.net

[5] Ibid. Miles.

[6] Ibid. Felten. p. 218

(Acknowledgment: a great deal of the inspiration for this message came from a sermon called Driveway Moments by Rev. Dr. Scott Kenefake found at http://www.Day1.org)

Guided in Prayer

John 17:6-19

A Methodist bishop named Minerva Carcano shared the following story.  I was reared, she began, on a small farm outside the South Texas town of Edinburg. There was an empty field directly to the east of our farm, in fact just beyond our kitchen window. One day a man bought the field. He had plans to put his cattle there. That did not bother us but what was disconcerting, was that he was a Black man. That made him different and we had heard many stories about what Black people were like. Well, my father, being the man of the house, would have to deal with him. There was one big problem, though. My father spoke no English and we soon discovered, as we had expected, that Mr. Johnson spoke no Spanish. My father would just have to figure it out.

The day Mr. Johnson moved his cattle next door my father went out to meet him across the fence that separated our properties. My siblings and I gathered at the kitchen window to see what would happen. We were amazed at the sight of my father having a conversation with a Black man who spoke no Spanish.

When my father returned to the kitchen he reported that Mr. Johnson seemed like a decent man. We were of course more curious about knowing what my father had said to him and how on earth he had said it to him since he spoke no English. But it marked the beginning of an interesting and even more, a blessed relationship.

For the next ten years, Monday through Friday at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Johnson would come to feed his cattle and my father would meet him at the fence and they would visit for a half hour or so. This monolingual English-speaking independent Baptist, and this monolingual Spanish-speaking Catholic turned Methodist, became close friends. Their daily 5:30 afternoon meeting at the fence was a time that these men both cherished for they rarely missed. We pondered how it was possible.

The day Mr. Johnson died we went to his funeral. Having always been part of an all Hispanic congregation, I was in awe of what I saw. The church was filled with Black folks, Hispanics, and white people. The entire town was represented. Many were the lives that this neighbor had touched. How my father and Mr. Johnson had become friends and how we had all come to love that black man became clear to us in that culminating moment. Friendship and even love were possible despite the obvious barriers because Mr. Johnson was more than a mere neighbor, he was an incarnation of Christ’s love.[i]

Our text for today calls us to be “one” with Jesus as he and God are “one.” And despite what the “world” might say, despite what the loudest voices in our government might say, and despite what some claiming to be followers of Christ might say; this “oneness” is not about who we are, or the language we speak, or our sexual orientation or gender identity, or the color of our skin, or even where we’ve come from, where we are, or where we would like to end up. Being “one” in the unity of God and Christ is about incarnation.  Being an incarnation of Christ’s love. The kind of incarnate love that Jesus teaches and models for us. It’s about a divine transformative love that decisively changes the lives of those who accept it. And when we believe to the point of loving, then the world will come to know the love of God, and the work of Christ, will be done. As Jesus prayed in today’s text, “…may they may become one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Powerful words. But I wonder.  I wonder how the disciples were feeling that night, sitting around after supper with the customary wine and conversation. It often seems that we relax more after dinner, perhaps opening-up more than during the meal itself. I wonder if they really knew what lay ahead for Jesus, for them? I wonder if they wanted to run away, if they wanted to separate themselves from the world? I wonder if they were afraid?

Now, contextually speaking, we’re at a point in this gospel where Jesus has been talking for several chapters.  Somewhere in chapter 15 right through all of 17 Jesus has been giving what has come to be known as “the farewell discourse.” A discourse, or a speech, to his closest followers, in this casual setting, to explain to them what’s expected of them after he’s gone. A speech that ended with today’s passage from what’s called “the high priestly prayer.”

Remember last week, we heard Jesus urging his disciples to remain in his love, to make their home in his love, and to love one another as he loved them. The lectionary, however, skips over the next part where Jesus mentions that the world would hate them and reject them, and even kill them, as it will first hate and reject and kill him.

So, I’m not surprised that Jesus felt a need to bring the conversation to a close with a deep, heartfelt prayer; that he wanted his dearest friends on this earth to be guided by prayer no matter what the future may have held for them. Remember now, John wrote his gospel for a community, who, sixty years or so after Jesus was physically gone, was also experiencing hatred and rejection; the hatred and rejection Jesus predicted. So, this prayer was for them, just as it has been for the church down through the ages, and for us as well, a guide in times of struggle and a reminder to stay engaged with the world around us by sharing Christ’s message of universal love.

You know, for many years I’ve heard it said that we are to either separate ourselves from “the world” or that we as Christians are to “be in the world but not of the world.” Neither of these positions, however, has ever sat well with me. I mean, when we view the gospels as a whole; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John together, and attempt to distill them down to their lowest common denominator, we discover that we are called, that we are challenged, to share the healing, the compassion, the grace, …the love of Christ within our context and beyond. That’s the unifying theme of Jesus’ mission and ministry: “love one another as I have loved you.” But what Jesus is addressing, at least in part in this farewell discourse, is this temptation to separate ourselves from, what he calls, “the world.”

Theologian and hymn writer Thomas Troeger expands on this idea   when he cautions against “…drawing together in communities to avoid having to deal with a hostile world outside our walls.” He goes on to concede that while we are exhausted, “with the world’s ceaseless violence and corruption, and [that we experience] frequent feelings of despair over the inability to make a difference,” the crux of this text is the assurance that, “Jesus himself will always be with us, to strengthen us and enable us in our shared-ministry in this world, rather than withdrawing from it.”[ii]

My friends, if we are to truly live out the Ministry of God and the Mission of Christ we must be in and of the world.  That doesn’t mean we’re going to participate in activities counter to our understanding of faith and ethics. But that, instead, we are with and among and a part of the entire community; a community that’s both local and, at the same time, global in scope. A community that’s diverse in language, skin-color, religion, nationality, and lifestyle.

You know, one of the things we proclaim as a congregation is “A Wide Welcome” to all. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because we are a friendly bunch. But declaring a wide welcome must be more than mere lip service; it must be lived out every day!  A wide welcome means breaking bread with the poor as well as the rich; visiting with the lonely, weeping with the sad, and rejoicing with the happy.  A wide welcome means inviting everyone to encounter the Sacred regardless of what their understanding or relationship with God might be.  A wide welcome means inviting every person to the Lord’s table and into the covenant of baptism, no matter how they view the sacrament. Do you see what I’m getting at here? A wide welcome means accepting people just as they are, because, guess what, God has accepted and welcomed and affirmed you and I, just as we are.

Now, I realize that this is not the most popular view among churches today. Far too often churches, through judgment and dogma say, “you’re welcome here as long as you become like us, believe the right things, act and speak as we do.” The problem is that’s finally not what Jesus was teaching.  Instead, the crux of this passage, the key to understanding the High Priestly Prayer is unification.  Jesus’ prayer that we may all be one is a prayer for just that. That neighbor can find common ground with neighbor, that nations and strive for peace with other nations, and that all religions can coexist with all other forms of religious expression.

And finally, as followers of Christ, we are called to be in the forefront of this movement.  We are challenged by the gospel to be co-workers with God in bringing about the unification of all people.

Now, we’re not there yet and maybe we’re not even close. But there’s hope. I’m going to leave you today with some very meaningful words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. on the eve of his assassination in 1968.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” King said, “But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.[iii]

My friends, I’ve caught a glimpse of “a wider welcome.” We are moving, ever-progressing toward the liberation, healing, and unity that Christ so fervently prayed for. And I know with all my being, “that we, as a people, will get to [that] promised land.”  May it be so. Amen.

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[i] Bishop Minerva Carcano The Evil Among Us (www.Day1.org) 1997

[ii] Thomas Troeger Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. II. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown    Taylor eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 2008 pgs. 544-599

[iii] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated. License to reproduce this speech granted by Intellectual Properties Management, Atlanta, Georgia.

Friends Together

John 15:9-1  Sixth Sunday of Easter

The great teacher and philosopher, Lao Tzu, once said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”[i] As we think about the concept of loving others again this week, I think Lao Tzu was onto something. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Our gospel lesson for today moves along these same lines. It contains many familiar phrases that inspire and comfort us, including the very heart, the bottom line if you will, of what it means to be a person of faith: “This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “love each other just as I have loved you.”

Now, the timing of this statement speaks volumes here.  This statement, this exceedingly important commandment, comes as Jesus neared the moment of his earthly death.  Contextually speaking, this passage is the beginning of what we call his “farewell discourse.” It was an address to his followers about what he expected of them after he’d gone. And I think It’s vital we understand that he began this discourse with a command to love one another. This theme of love is consistent throughout John’s Gospel and is the focus of the disciple’s charge as they carry on Jesus’ mission and ministry.

But the love that Jesus espouses in this passage is slightly different than the love he talked about earlier in this text.  Love between Jesus and his disciples here, is expressed as friendship. “I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing.” “Instead,” he said, “I call you friends.”

But we must be careful with the term “friendship” here. John wants us to view friendship from a much broader perspective. He wants us to understand that this friendship Jesus has for humanity, and expects humanity to have for each other, runs far deeper than a mere handshake; it’s a full-on bear hug.

I remember a class during my first semester of seminary when the professor quoted Henri Nouwen as saying that we’re called to “love Jesus and love the way Jesus loved.” In his beautiful little book, In the Name of Jesus, Nouwen provides a lens through which to read this passage: “Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing,” he said.

Now, Dr. Nouwen was writing about the ministry, and of course we’re all called to be ministers (the priesthood of all believers) We’re chosen by God for this ministry. Now, this may ruffle the feathers of free-will a bit but it’s finally not inconsistent. We are, in my own words, “set apart to be within.”  We have a calling from God to be God’s agents, God’s cohorts, God’s purveyors of love to neighbors both near and far. Or, in the more profound words of Nouwen, “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”[ii]

But what might this “ministry of love” look like?

Well, again, we are challenged by Jesus to understand that love is more than just saying some nice words. Instead, loving is what it means to be the church. The action of loving is what it means to be in covenant and communion with each other and God.  A ministry of love includes the sharing of human resources, material goods, and communal fellowship, and a commitment of solidarity toward unity, as agents of God, in a broken and divided world”[iii]

Archbishop Oscar Romero stands as an example of this kind of love. Romero knew how to be both prophet to the rich and pastor to the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador. He was ordained and was a conventional and well-respected servant of the institutional church and he could have easily made the decision to stay in that station.  But instead, Father Romero went to the margins of his society to minister to those who suffered there; the poor, those displaced by violence. And there, he shared a gospel of liberation and peace, he championed the cause of social justice and was a leader for societal change, equality, and unity.  And in exquisite faithfulness to the ministry of love of which Jesus commanded in this passage, Romero challenged the corrupt powers that be, and ultimately laid down his life for those he loved; the poor, the widow and the orphan of El Salvador.

So, what about us? What might our ministry of love look like in real time? Who in our community needs to feel the wide-welcome, the outreach, the friendship of our church today? Well, I think Romero’s story challenges us to live out Jesus’ command by strengthening our community. And we can do this by promoting unity instead of division. We can do this by affirming diversity through an open and affirming worldview and by fostering healthy relationships within families. We can practice and ministry of love by educating ourselves about the issues surrounding aging and by visiting the lonely and the grieving. We can be a ministry of love by welcoming the stranger, the refugee, and the immigrant with open arms and open hearts.  And we can be a ministry of love by initiating intercultural and interreligious dialogues.”  And these ecclesial virtues extend beyond our local community “to all the ends of the earth,” as Jesus instructed.

The Dalai Lama agrees with Jesus when he says, “Because we all share this planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity. We are dependent on each other in so many ways that we can no longer live in isolated communities and ignore what is happening outside those communities.”[iv]

My friends, in the end, when all the rhetoric has calmed, and the fear and the finger-pointing ceased, human beings are all, in the words of the poet, “leaves of one branch, drops of one sea, flowers of one garden.”[v]  We are a global community. In his final word to his followers, and to us, Jesus wants us to “get this.” He says if we remain in his love, if we keep God’s commandment to love beyond the limits the world has set, if we indwell the strength of being deeply loved and gain courage by sharing that love, our joy will be complete. Our joy will be complete.

I think we should stop here today and let this assurance of joy have the final word.  Amen.

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[i] Lao Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Victor H, Mair ed. (New York: Bantam Books) 1990

[ii] Henry Nouwen In the Name of Jesus (The Crossroad Publishing Company) 1992

[iii] Carmelo Álvarez Feasting on the Word. Year B, Vol. II. David L. Bartlett

   Barbara Brown Taylor eds. (Westminster John Know Press) 2008 pgs. 496-500

[iv] Katheryn Matthews Loving Friends (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2018

[v] Jean Baptiste Lacordaire.

May Flowers?

A Spring Devotion

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.                                                                                                                                                    I John 4:16

“April showers bring May flowers.” But if this axiom is true, what do April snowstorms bring? I saw a humorous Facebook post recently that featured a street full of people, frantically digging out after a blizzard.  The caption read, “Meanwhile in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites are shoveling the road for the annual Fourth of July parade.”

This year, it seems like winter will never end. But here’s the thing.  It will. As proven by our late April thaw, snow will melt away, the temperatures will rise, the flowers will bloom again, and the birds will sing. (And it will probably be in the upper 90’s and humid for the Fourth of July parade)

Faith kinda follows this same logic.  We all know someone who is experiencing a “winter” time in their life. The seemingly endless snow of struggle and grief, of fear and doubt, continue to blind them to any possibility of a coming thaw. But that’s why God has called upon all of us, whether we’re the one stuck in a snowbank or the one driving the plow truck; God has called upon all of us to be in community with one another and with God. Sometimes we mistakenly view faith as an individual thing.  But it’s not.  Faith is a shared journey of love.

The “love” part is key here. The author of the First Epistle of John says that “God is Love.”  That’s a huge statement.  It’s huge because he isn’t saying that God only imparts love (which God does) or that God only expects love (which God also does), but that God is Love.  So, love itself isn’t only the core of the gospel message, it is the gospel! Love, the unconditional, often unexpected, universal Agape of God is finally the healing that humanity seeks; it’s the spring of our existence.

So, have faith my friends.  The snow will melt, spring will come, and the Love of God will continue to bring warmth and grace into all our lives…  …eventually.

Peace & Blessing for the Journey.

Pastor Phil

Abiding in Love

John 15:1-8

In this week’s reading, John uses the image of a vine and its branches as a challenge to his community and to us as well.  It’s a challenge to examine our relationship with God. We’re invited by this text to “remain” in God and in turn God will remain in us. Now, back in Jesus’ day, people would have been familiar with this vine metaphor because it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures several times to describe Israel. Now, this image might be a little more foreign to most of us because we’ve never tended a vineyard. But even though you’re not vinedresser, chances are you’ve seen a grapevine with its many intertwined branches.  You’ve probably noticed how the winding branches make their way around one another in intricate patterns. Patterns that make it almost impossible to tell where one branch starts and another one ends. But as a symbol for Israel, we’re intended to see that these patterns are more than just intricate; their intimate. The vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant. The vine is one with the branches.[i]

Another example of this same kind of interconnectedness are the giant sequoia trees of California. They can measure hundreds of feet in height and up to ten feet around the trunk. These amazing trees can live for thousands of years, and yet, sequoias have very shallow root systems. So, how do they keep from falling over when the first strong wind blows? Well, they intertwine their roots with all the others sequoia trees in the stand, thus drawing their strength from their interconnectedness with each other.[ii]

Now, contextually speaking, this interconnectedness between the vine and branches works in much the same way.  John uses this illustration to symbolize the interdependence of community. Community is key to understanding John’s Gospel and the mission and ministry of Jesus. But one of the problems we have in the Christianity today, one of the places where I feel like we’ve “jumped the tracks” in our theology, comes when we devalue community and reduce Jesus to nothing more than a “personal relationship.” This “remaining” that we read about today, however, wasn’t originally written in the form of an I/thou relationship.  John was clearly talking about the whole community “remaining” in Christ.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying that an individual relationship with God is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it’s vital. As people of faith, we should always be seeking a closer relationship with the Divine. We must create a time and space to be in God’s presence every day. And we can all do this through prayer, devotional reading, and personal reflection.

But, problems arise when our personal relationship with Jesus overshadows our calling to participate in community or when our personal view of Jesus clouds the movement of our church toward peace and justice and service.  Why do I say this? Well, right here in this passage, Jesus says, “a branch can’t produce fruit by itself.  [But] if you remain in me,” ‘abide’ is the word used in older versions of the Bible, “but if you remain in me and I in you, you will produce much fruit.  Without me, you can’t do anything.” And here’s the clincher. John ends this passage by saying that God is glorified when we produce an abundance of fruit and “this is the way,” he says, “that you prove you are my disciples.”

Disciples. Plural. Sometimes there are linguistic challenges when we translate words from Greek to English. But not in this instance and for a good reason.  The word used here is plural because this remaining, this abiding, is a communal process.  It’s not just one disciple being challenged to “walk in the garden alone” with Jesus, but the whole community together. A faith community then, is defined by how is “remains” in Christ and that “remaining” is proven by the fruit it produces.

So, here’s the obvious question: What does this fruit look like? Well, for John producing fruit is summed up in a single word, love. We often hear the word love in John’s writings. For John, love is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, love is the measure of faithfulness, and love is a state of being that compels us to serve others. As a matter of fact, I would contend that love is the central verb in today’s passage and our shared faith journey.[iii]

Here’s and illustration of what I mean. I first met Linda about three years ago and in that relativity short amount of time, I came to view her as an inspiration.  She was the type of person who, when you went to visit with her, would enrich your soul and renew your spirit. Every time we talked, she reaffirmed her belief that God was present in her life. Even as she came to terms with her own impending mortality, Linda knew that God was walking right there beside her, because she was walking beside God.  And an important part of that walk, maybe the most important part of her walk with God, was sharing love with others.  You see, Linda shared with me that her faith wasn’t something she hid away, but rather it was to be lived out every day with and though her faith community.  Her faith was demonstrated through loving acts of kindness.

Now, I’m starting to see some smiles around the room because some of you have figured out that I’m talking about Linda Hoover. Now, for all the times I went to Linda’s home, I couldn’t tell you the color of her refrigerator. I don’t know because the it was literally covered with pictures of family and friends, inspirational sayings, and pieces of Scripture. And when her refrigerator door would become too full to add any more, she would frame everything and hang that framed collage on the wall in the kitchen creating room for more stuff on the refrigerator door.

Now, I mention Linda’s refrigerator door today because of a phrase displayed on it that jumped out at me: in big, bold letters it read, “Love is a verb!” Love is the underpinning of our action as people of faith, love is foundation of the church and of her mission and ministry. And love, love in action, is what sustains us as we journey through this life and into the next. If I learned nothing else from my relationship with Linda, it’s to remember that love is a verb; a verb that needs to be lived out in community by serving our neighbor. And in a similar way, this is the type of community that John was speaking about in this text. He understood that love was the motivation, the foundation, of the community that Jesus sought to create.

Now, in our context, this foundation of love is what defines us as a church; it’s the difference between a church and a social organization. Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with clubs that do good-works. I used to be a Rotarian.  Rotary International does some great things to assist and advance humanity.  But the underpinning of Rotary finally isn’t spiritual, instead, it comes from a place of wanting to connect with a diversity of people from across the globe.

The Church, however, finds her foundation in our unique relationship with the Sacred. And it’s this longing for the Divine that fuels our desire to connect with a diversity of people from outside our inner-circle, sharing our faith through our actions and good works. Do you see the difference here? Social organizations start with a desire to help and through helping better themselves and their community.  A faith community starts from a sacred center and from that connection with a higher power, propagate the desire to help others and better our community.

Contemporary author and theologian, Richard Rohr, affirms this notion when he says that “…true religion is always a deep intuition that we are already participating in something very good.” In other words, there’s something almost indescribable going on deep within our being when we participate in acts of service. Something beyond making ourselves feel good or carrying out a commandment. And I think, that “something” is the intrinsic interconnectedness between God and the faith community and between the Church and those beyond our four walls.  An interconnectedness that’s fueled by love.

You see, when we remain in Christ, we when we abide in and share the love of God we become a part of something larger than our selves. We are called as followers of Christ to be a part of a larger community.  A community that’s bigger than individual religions or nations.  A community that’s joined together by a shared love and a challenge to bear the fruit of that love in the world today.[iv]

One final thought this morning. Gandhi once said, “Where there is love there is life.” My friends, as we continue this journey of faith today, tomorrow and beyond; as we continue to remain in God and as God remains in us, might this be our mantra. “Where there is love there is life.” May it be so. Amen.

[i] Katheryn Matthews. Love Abides. (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2018

[ii] Rev. Dr. B. Wiley Stephens. Well-Connected Christians. (www.Day1.org) 2006

[iii] Fred Craddock. Preaching through the Christian Year B (www.ucc.org/samuel) 201

[iv] Ibid. Stephens.

Christ Among Us

Luke 24:36b-48 – Second Sunday of Easter 2018.

I once knew a young woman who was looking for the perfect church in which to get married. The right “venue” she called it. But she nearly drove her fiancée and her mother crazy, scouting out every sanctuary in the area, looking for just the right one…the one with all the right amenities, the one with the prettiest stained-glass windows, the one with a center aisle that was just the right length.

Her final choice, however, was surprising. She ended up getting married in an old, cinder block, rectangular building with beautiful Barbie pink walls and 70’s orange shag carpeting. Why the change of heart? Well, she finally realized something very important. She realized that the church of her childhood was the place where she had been baptized and gone through confirmation, it was the place where she had met her husband and where her grandparents’ memorial services had been held. This was where she had come to know something of the love and grace of God. She realized that the building wasn’t as important as what it represented.

Now, this has been a realization, dare I say a transformation, that has played itself out across the entire history of the Church. When Luke began putting together his account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, he was living in a time in which the sacred center of religious life had been taken away. For the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem was that sacred center. It was the dwelling place of the Most-High. And in a very literal way, they believed the closer you got to the center of the Temple, the closer you got to the Holy of Holies, the closer you got to God. The temple represented the very presence of Divine in this world.

But when the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Jewish people were left without a visible, tangible sign of the presence of God. And as you might imagine, this sent a shock wave through Hellenistic Judaism, causing them to eventually rethink their entire Temple theology. Christianity however, had chosen a different course. We found our sacred center not in a temple, but in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. So, you can imagine, then, the shock that was felt when Jesus was crucified. It appeared that the sacred center for the early followers of Jesus had been destroyed. The people who at first centered their relationship with God in a temple, and who had later found that center in a person, were left with neither temple nor person. So, where did they turn? When one’s sacred center is destroyed, then what?[i]

This seems to be the question that Luke is addressing in this strange little narrative we have before us today. Okay. Jesus appeared to his disciples, and they thought he was a ghost. But when he showed them his hands and feet, when he invited them to touch him, all this ghost talk ended.  And then he told them to give him some fish, broiled fish specifically, and he ate it. Strange story! But it begins to make sense when we focus-in on the question which Luke is seeking to address. Remember, the issue is, where do we find our sacred center? When we want to find God, where do we go? If the temple is gone and Jesus of Nazareth is gone, where do we find that situation, that place, that occasion in which we can center ourselves and our lives in the living presence of God?

Now, Luke begins to give us an answer in this funny little vignette. Obviously, Luke wanted his hearers back then, and us still today, to see that a resurrected Jesus was not, and is not, a ghost or a specter of some kind, but rather, a physical being. You see, it was important, crucial, for Luke to make this point and to make it as strongly as possible because there were people in that day who believed that God could not become a human being. The popular notion then, the predominate philosophical and religious understanding was that flesh was evil and spirit was good. So, that meant God couldn’t possibility become a flesh and blood person, because the material and physical world was inferior to the “spiritual realm.” And we see this concept carried-on in the writings of Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin among others. So, it’s important for us to understand that this “dualistic” view of humanity has been firmly planted in the psyche of Christianity.

But you can see the disconnect here, can’t you? Most contemporary scholars agree that the resurrection of Jesus’ body affirms the goodness of the human body. Our culture is beginning to recognize that we are whole beings, body and soul, mind and spirit; and that somehow our healing, our restoration and reconciliation with God, gets worked out here, on earth, in these bodies just as much as our souls. So, “to insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place. This makes us embodied creatures and a people of hope.” [ii]

Barbara Brown Taylor beautifully describes this embodied experience of Jesus, by drawing our attention to Christ’s 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 “he had gone through the danger and not around it.”

Through the danger, and not around it. Much of our time and energy is spent on finding a way around things, rather than living through them. We don’t want to experience pain or danger, or even to come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth. “What can I do?” you might say, “the world’s problems are overwhelming and I’m only one person.”

And yet, yet, Taylor says we bear hope for this world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole Church long ago, for we are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today: “Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes,” she says, “…but our hands and feet [and] what we have done with them and where we have gone with them”[iii]

My friends, the sacred center of life is still in this world today. It’s found in the lovingkindness, in the grace, and the presence of the Risen Christ. Luke is begging us to understand that THIS world is where God is active and alive; that THIS globe is where people can know God and where God lives with, heals, and empowers people. People, like you and I, to be God’s hands and feet in this world. THIS is the place and NOW is the time.  We are called, challenged, and commissioned to be agents of God today, in service of our neighbors near and far.  We ARE the hands and feet of God when we welcome the stranger, open our home to the refugee, and our heart to the immigrant. We are the hands and feet of God when we seek justice and equality for all people and when we seek to preserve and restore the beauty of nature. We are the hands and feet of God when we visit the lonely, feed the hungry, house the homeless, lift-up the downtrodden.  We are God’s hands and we are God’s feet whenever we speak words of kindness and participate in acts of compassion. Compassion.  I learned this week, that in Latin, compassion means “to suffer with.”  …to suffer with.

“Here,” Jesus said, “touch my hands and my feet.” And “Here,” Jesus still says to us today, “Touch the hurts and ‘suffer with’ real people across the globe, who are really struggling, right now.” And when you do,” he says, “when you demonstrate compassion for the least of my beloved children, when you love those the world deems unlovable, when you touch those others have written-off as untouchable, you touch me. And here’s the thing. In the process, because you chose the way of love, you will be transformed.”  You see, transformation finally isn’t found in the Temple and nor can it be found in even the most beautiful of church buildings. Transformation of our whole-selves, the true, deep, healing of our bodies and souls, comes, when we discover the presence of the Sacred at the center of our being and then share that presence with all our neighbors and all of creation.

Friends, as we continue this journey together, may the presence of the Risen and Living Christ guide us along the way and may we ever-seek to continue to be Christ’s hands and feet, his heart, and his voice in this world. And it’s to that end that I say, Amen.

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[i] Stephen Montgomery.  It’s Touching Time. (www.Day1.org) 2015

[ii] Stephen Cooper. Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor eds. (Westminster John Know Press, 2008) Pgs. 424-428

[iii] Barbara Brown Taylor. Home by Another Way (Cowley Publications) 1997

Marks of Faith

John 20:19-31

I’ve always resisted the notion that we must seek evidence to prove our faith. Case in point. A number of years ago, I was in a conversation with a man who could absolutely prove to me that the earth was only six-thousand years old. His evidence was a YouTube video set somewhere in the desert of the Southwest. Now, the main argument presented in this video was found in the beautiful, layered rock formations that populated this wilderness.  The host, very passionately and with all the confidence in the world, pointed to these layers and said, “Look! If you count these layers, there’s six-thousand of them, one for every year, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the earth is six-thousand years old. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, he also pointed out that one of the layers had little shells in it right at the point in his history when Noah’s Ark would have been floating around.  Well, the next time I spoke to the man he was eager to see if the video had convinced me.  But instead of an affirmation, I simply asked him one question.  “Did the host of the video own a shovel,” I asked? “Why?” was the response. “Well,” I said, “those giant rocks don’t sit on the top of the ground.  If he were to begin digging, I’m sure he’d find the other 4.5 billion years.

Like I said before, this concept of having to prove one’s faith seems a little strange to me. I mean, isn’t the very definition of faith, “believing without seeing?” But we also have to acknowledge that this type of thinking, this seeking “an empirical faith,” is prevalent in the wider Church today. The word empirical, according to Merriam-Webster, means, “originating in or based on observation or experience.”[i]  In other words, an empirical faith is a faith that requires proof. But at the end of the day, all these efforts at establishing a faith based on some “objective proof”[ii] fall short of producing a complete or a well-rounded faith.

Which brings us to our gospel text for today.  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side,” Thomas said, “I won’t believe.” These infamous words earned Thomas the eternal nickname of doubting Thomas.  But over the course of many years of study and sermon preparation, I’ve come to believe that the nickname “doubting Thomas” is a misnomer.  I think to simply lift-up Thomas as a “doubter” and by extension, “faithless” doesn’t do justice to this passage. John was very clear all throughout his gospel account that Thomas was a faithful disciple.  So, I would contend that Thomas wasn’t faithless, but rather he had a misplaced faith.  Let me explain.  Thomas was grieving the loss of the one he considered Messiah.  He had dedicated his life to following Jesus.  And now, Jesus was dead. So, it’s understandable that in his fear and confusion, Thomas needed something tactile, something as real as a dead body, before he could open himself up to the possibility of disappointment again.  He needed to see for himself before he could believe. In a very real way, Thomas expressed the same kind of empirical faith that’s common in the Church today.

But the bottom line here is that Jesus’ approach to faith was not one that endorsed seeing the evidence in order to prove it for oneself. In fact, he said “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed”[iii] This is consistent with what we know of Jesus elsewhere. The multitudes kept coming to him and asking him for some kind of miraculous sign in order that they might believe that he was who he claimed to be. But Jesus refused. I think he knew that a faith that depends on some kind of proof or verification constantly has to be re-proven and re-verified. Those who look for evidence are always looking for evidence, and never really take the leap that faith entails.[iv]

But, we do have to be careful here.  While an empirical approach to faith is an incomplete faith, so is an unexamined faith.  You’ve all heard this one before, but it really gets to core of an examined faith.

A flood was on its way, forcing everyone to evacuate. The police rowed up to the home of a very pious woman in town and said, “Ma’am, you have to leave this house! People are dying out here!” The woman replied, “No, I’m not leaving. I have faith that God will save me.” And the water continued to rise.  So, the woman went to the second story of her house. Another boat came by, and the captain yelled, “Ma’am, you have to get on this boat or you’re going to drown!” but the woman again replied, “No, I have faith, God will save me.” And the water continued to rise. This time she went to the top of the roof, where a helicopter came and hovered overhead. The pilot called-out on his loudspeaker, “Please climb aboard, ma’am. You are going to drown!” But yet again, the woman replied, “God is going to save me!” Well, the water continued to rise and soon she died. She did, however, go to heaven, and once she got there she wondered if she might ask God a question. “Go ahead,” said God. “I have always been faithful,” said the woman, “I’ve prayed, I consistently read my Bible, I’ve always tried to love You and my neighbor, I went to church every Sunday, God, why didn’t you save me?” “Well,” said God, “I’m stumped by that one too, I mean, I sent two boats and a helicopter!”

My friends, in the end, faith isn’t something you can quantify or verify in a test tube, any more than love or hope or mercy or compassion. But at the same time, faith isn’t blind. Having faith doesn’t mean there are never signs or reminders or evidence of God’s presence.  God is around and within us all the time.  My proof? I don’t have any.  But what I do have is a faith based on my own experience of God in the world; my perception of that experience anyway. This is called revelation.  I believe that God is revealed to us through our experience of tradition, our own Christian tradition and that of other faiths; God can be seen in our relationships with other people through love and compassion, justice and peace; and finally, God is revealed to us through nature in the beauty and interconnectedness of all creation.

And I think this is the crux of what John was driving at in this text when he put the story of Thomas’ questioning side by side with Pentecost.  Yes, Pentecost.  We call this text “John’s Pentecost” because this narrative is about the coming of the Spirit in John’s account. But notice something here. There are no violent winds or flaming tongues, instead, Jesus simply said, “‘Peace be with you,’ and then he breathed on the disciples, including Thomas, and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

My friends, I cannot prove to you that the very Breath of the Spirit of God is within you, but I know it to be true.  There’s finally something intrinsic about faith. Something deep within our very being, calling us, challenging us, loving us.  And that something, my faith tells me, is God.

So, my prayer for all of us, as this Easter Season continues, is that we will all find ourselves connecting on an ever-deepening level, with this intrinsic, more complete, understanding of faith.

May it be so.  Amen.

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[i] www.merriamwebster.com

[ii] Søren Kierkegaard observes that in matters of faith, “for every proof there is some disproof.” See Charles E. Moore, ed., Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, 256

[iii] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 226, where he points out that even those who had seen had to make the transition to believing without seeing

[iv] Alan Brehm. Leaping into the Everlasting Arms. (www.thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com) 2012

 

When All Are Welcome Isn’t Enough

Open and Affirming in the United Church of Christ

Why become an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation? Well, historically, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) people of faith have experienced emotional and spiritual injury in churches that condemn their capacity to love or seek love. And as a result, they’ve learned that “All Are Welcome” usually doesn’t apply to them.  And this reality means that LGBTQ people simply cannot assume that all churches will be safe for them or their families. So, how do we let these folks know that our church is different; how do we let them know that this is a safe space for them and their family to worship and to be fully included in the activities and leadership of our faith community? I believe that making a public ONA statement is the answer. In addition to the hospitality aspect, I’ve also outlined three additional reasons for us to consider adopting an ONA covenant.

A public welcome by an ONA church sends a clear message to LGBTQ seekers that they have a home in the United Church of Christ. A congregation’s affirmation and support through an ONA covenant can be a life-changing and life-saving experience—especially for LGBTQ youth.

A public welcome helps churches grow. New ONA churches attract new members. Many of these new members are straight people who identify with the values ONA represents. And often, they’re young couples starting new families who want their children to learn the faith in a welcoming environment.

By adopting an ONA covenant, a congregation is taking seriously the inclusive actions of Christ. He welcomed people from all walks of life to join him on a journey of healing, compassion, and transformation. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “So, welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you.” (Romans 15:7, CEB)

The Cable UCC church board voted (unanimously) in their last meeting to begin the ONA process here in our church. We are in the early stages of this process.  The first step is to form a “ONA Covenant Team.” The Covenant Team will be responsible for prayerfully leading us forward in this process by determining the steps to be taken, setting the timeline, and communicating openly with the congregation.  If you are interested in joining the Covenant Team, please contact either Pastor Phil or Kathi Jensen.  May our path forward be blessed as we continue to be and become a community striving to share the Peace and Justice and Love of the Living God.

Now What

Mark 16:1-8

“The Resurrection is not a single event, but a loosening of God’s power and light into the earth and history that continues to alter all things, infusing them with the grace and power of God’s own holiness. It is as though a door was opened, and what poured out will never be stopped, and that door cannot be closed.”[i] These beautiful words, penned by Megan McKenna, represent an important understanding of why were here today; why we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ every Easter.

Remember now, resurrection is more than mere resuscitation! It’s about transformation! It’s about having faith in what’s possible even when others are convinced that it’s impossible. Resurrection is about having the courage to love others even when they don’t love you back. It’s about showing compassion even when others are heaping judgment.  A living resurrection is about having the ability to live in peace even when others are being violent and to work for justice even when others are working for wealth. A living resurrection is finally a call to respond with gentleness even when others are reacting with rage. It’s a calling to trust that a life well-lived, even if it’s short-lived as in the case of Christ, is preferable to longevity without virtue.[ii]

This is the on-going resurrection that McKenna espouses.  When she writes that resurrection is an on-going event and that God continues to alter all things in our world today, she’s making the case that God is still-present, still-creating, still-speaking, and, in a very real way, still being resurrected in the world today. Or, as in the words of Pope Francis, “Jesus is the everlasting ‘today’ of God.

But, does this mean everything is perfect? Of course not.  The Peaceful and Just Reign of God isn’t complete yet. But we are being called as individuals to participate in bringing it about.  And we are being challenged as a community of faith to be a part of ushering in this new life, this Peaceful Reign of God, this “new spring” of existence.  But what might that look like in real time?

Well, I wrote an article recently in which I held-up the virtues of the Latin word, “viriditas.” I came across this term while reading a devotion[iii] about Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval Christian mystic, who often referred to this concept in her writings. Now, viriditas is best understood as “the greening of things from the inside out.” Spring, of course, is the first thing that came to my mind when I heard this definition.  I mean, think about butterflies leaving their cocoons, or the sap running in the maple, or the burgeoning leaves, as the chlorophyll begins to push forth from deep within the tree causing the “viriditas” of the leaves. It’s the perfect descriptor.

Viriditas, however, has a deeper theological meaning as well.  All throughout the season of Lent, we’ve been like those dormant trees; frozen, leafless, gray. And it’s during this season, this winter of introspection and hopefully change, that we anticipate the viriditas of Easter. We await once again the spiritual resurrection that follows our metaphorical death. We expectantly look for signs of a new spring as humanity and creation respond to the mystical Divine energy as it’s once again unleashed on the world. And it’s from somewhere deep within our being that this viriditas of the spirit; this resurrection of life; this greening of our on-going faith, emerges. Just like the cycle of the seasons, viriditas reminds us of the cycle of life.  A cycle didn’t end at a fixed point of time 2000 years ago on a cross, or in a tomb, or even with a single resurrection event. “But the loosening of God’s power and light into the earth and history continues to alter all things, infusing them with the grace and power of God’s own holiness.”

“Now, that’s nice and very theological,” you might say, “But Now What?”  “What difference does this concept of ‘greening’ make in the real lives of real people who are really struggling?” Well, consider some of the problems we face as a nation and as a global community. There’s war and terrorism, on-going violence against woman and marginalized communities; violence in general.  We face the horror of unchecked genocide, of extreme nationalism and the underlying racism that fuels it.  Across the globe hopelessness and poverty and hunger plague humanity, and of the ever-intensifying threat of global climate change poses are very real threat to our very existence.  These are the seemingly lifeless branches on our global tree.

But what if these branches aren’t dead? What if instead, they’re simply sleeping? That would mean somewhere deep within the tree of life the chlorophyll is gathering, waiting to push forth the leaves of change; the spirit of resurrection. My friends, God is still-speaking, still active, still living in the world today and God, the Spark of the Divine, the very breath of God, is within all of us, all of humanity and all creation. What does that mean?

It means, that as a community of faith, we are being called to take seriously the challenge of the gospels; to share the love of God, the compassion of the Christ, and the unity of the Spirit with all humanity and all creation. It means we are being invited to be God’s representatives; God’s hands and feet and God’s heart and voice in the world today. Where might this greening of our faith; this viriditas of our being, take us? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out?

I would like to leave you today with a poem simply entitled Spring.

God’s fragile mystery of resurrection; yours is the over-flowing beauty of young oaks’ filigreed foliage, of pendant ash flowers and the fiery emergence of poplar leaves in all their wet-eyed wonder. You are nature’s embryo, a silent exaltation of all that is soft, tender and beautiful; a golden effusion of love and heaven, of stillness and freshness, the Spirit’s greening time, when Earth’s rebirth foreshadows our own. Each spring approached with joyful reverence becomes an epidemic of mystery and resurrection; an epidemic to which through God’s grace we shall succumb![iv]

May you have a happy and blessed Easter Day! And my prayer for you is that you may experience and participate in the process of ushering in God’ Reign of Peace, Christ’s resurrection of Love, and the Spirit’s viriditas of Justice for all.  May it be so. Amen.

 [i]  Megan McKenna.  And Morning Came: Scriptures of the Resurrection. (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2018

[ii] Bret Meyers. Easter Encouragement for the Journey. (www.progressivechristianity.org) 2018

[iii] Molly Baskette. Viriditas (www.dailydevotional @ucc.org) 2018

[iv] William L. Wallace. Spring. (www.progressivechristanity.org) 2016