If you love me

File:Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles.jpg“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:15

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Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 17, 2020

John 14:15-21: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

At first this was an emergency.  As the threat of this novel corona virus grew, we had to think through what we would do in worship to limit our risk.  Then, as the shut-down came, we had to quickly figure out a way to continue to worship online with the few resources we had.  It was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.  And I was entirely focused on figuring out a way for us to worship – and then to do Holy Week and Easter online.  I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

But now, as the days drag on, I find myself grieving the loss of something that has been so important to me for the last 42 years.  I’ve been a pastor of the church.  And it’s been a great privilege.  I’ve been able to embrace those who grieve.  I’ve been able to hold hands and pray for those in need.  I’ve been able to lay my hands upon those in the hospital and say the blessing.  I’ve been able to lay hands upon the newly baptized, and upon confirmands at their confirmation, and upon the dying with the last rites.  I’ve been able to hold a child in my arms and walk her through the sanctuary following her baptism, introducing her to all those who now share in her spiritual life and growth.  Now all I have is this moment when I can see a few of you on the screen and talk to you about a text that seems far away from the realities of our daily life

I’m not able to invite you to be involved in care for others.  I’m not able to celebrate silly occasions like talent shows or youth dinners.  There are no confirmation retreats.  We can’t share a moment over a cup of coffee.  There are no delightful surprises that Tom has brought donut holes or that Elaine has made Kringle, or that Yolanda and Bill have made those amazing little sandwiches.  And I don’t see an end.

At some point it might happen that a few would begin to gather in the building and I could at least see faces – but those faces are likely to be covered by masks.  And we are going to have to sneak in and out without getting closer than six feet to each other.

We are reduced to waving at each other rather than shaking hands.

Jesus touched the man with leprosy.  He made mud and put it on the eyes of the man born blind.  He took the synagogue ruler’s daughter by the hand and raised her up.  He touched the bier upon which lay the body of the widow’s son.

Jesus broke bread.  He washed feet.  And shall I risk any of that?  I will not be able to sit with children for a children’s sermon.  I cannot take a child’s hand as we go outside to look at the tiny seeds of the Redwood trees and think about how they grow into giants.

I stand here on Sunday mornings and look out into an empty sanctuary.  I know you are there.  I know we are still connected in spirit.  I know we are still gathered around this wondrous book and a table set with bread and wine.  And I know we are keeping our physical distance because we care for one another.  But I would like to be in your living room or at your dining table or watching a football game together.  There are other words to be spoken, stories to be heard, lives to be shared.

I am struggling.  So many simple and ordinary joys are gone.  And I don’t want any more losses.

I want to sing the liturgy.  I want to feel the energy of an Easter crowd.  I want to see familiar smiles.  I want to share coffee and talk about the Sunday crossword puzzle.  I want to hear Natalie’s voice and see her face in the office.  I want to feel like this place is a sanctuary in all the best sense of that word.

I want to listen to the Swedish children’s choir singing in the next room when I’m here on a Saturday working on the sermon.  I want to hear the laughter of children on the playground during the week.  I want to chat with parents from the neighborhood who bring their children to play.  I want to pet the occasional dog being walked.  And, yes, there were times I needed to hide away in my basement office for some quiet uninterrupted time to study or write, but the music school was banging their drums in the next room, and there were children walking back and forth before my window with whom I could smile and wave.  I wasn’t just alone in my office.

I am frustrated, frustrated that all this social distancing was supposed to buy time for our leaders to put a plan in place – to get the equipment we needed, to get the testing we needed, to establish a process and hire the people that were necessary to trace and contain this virus.  But we have fumbled that effort.  We have wasted that time.  And it is the weak and the vulnerable and the poor who have born the worst of it.  Some are being forced to go back to work no matter how risky it is for them – or how fearful they might be – or how many children or seniors depend on their care – they are forced to go back or lose their unemployment coverage (if they’ve been able to get it).

On Saturday evening last week, the death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,696.  Last night it was 89,420 – almost 10,000 more.  10,000 more families have lost loved ones in this last week despite the heroic work of doctors and health workers.  10,000 more have had to die alone, without a parent or a child or a partner to sit at their side and hold their hand.  And the best we can say is that maybe it will hold steady – not because we are helpless before this virus, but because we fumbled the ball and turned it over on the ten yard line.  We have more deaths than any country in the world.

10,000 more this week.  80,000 thousand people so far.  Each with family and friends and neighbors.  Each with lives they have touched.  Each with contributions they have made.  Each with stories to tell.     Each with sadness and loss left behind.

And for each of those 10,000, there are doctors and nurses whose hopes and spirits have been worn down because they couldn’t save them.

We raised an army and built ships and airplanes to fight fascism in Europe and imperialism in Japan.  We created a Marshall plan to rebuild Europe.  We kept Berlin alive with an airlift – planes taking off and landing every 90 seconds, night and day, when the Russians closed the rail lines.  We went to the moon.  We ended polio.  We ended smallpox.  We should have been able to fight this, not throw up our hands and say tests aren’t important and masks are a socialist plot.

I appreciate the fact that on Friday mornings the CBS morning news is beginning to show some of the people who are perishing.  We talk too often about numbers and not often enough about the people whose lives are being stolen away.  Five names, one day a week, however, is not enough when 10,000 are dying.

Paul and Iris shared with the council this week that their nanny’s sister has died from this Corona virus.  These are not numbers; these are real people.  We should not have to fight to have them recognized as such.

The children of Syrian refugee camps are also real people.  As are the children of the border detention centers.  As are the children of Flint, Michigan, and every other place where people are not only absent from our minds, but absent from our hearts.

When Jesus says to us this morning: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is asking an important question.

The way you express a conditional statement in Greek – an “if/then” statement – can tell you what you expect.  The grammar reveals whether the “if” part of the statement is true or not.  So, one way to express this in Greek says: “If you love me (and we know that you do), you will keep my commandments.”  Another way says: “If you love me (and we know that you don’t), you would keep my commandments.”  And the third possibility says: “If you love me (and we don’t know whether you do), you will keep my commandments.”

When Jesus says this to his followers, he uses this third way.  The statement doesn’t assume that we love Jesus.  Whether we do or not will be revealed by whether we keep his commandments.

The word ‘commandments’ is in the plural.  It refers to all that Jesus has taught.  But there is really only one commandment.  That is the commandment Jesus has just given moments before when he washed the disciples’ feet and said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”

And let’s not be mistaken.  When Jesus talks about loving one another, he isn’t drawing that circle around a few close friends.  He is drawing that circle around the whole human community.

If you love me, you will show faithfulness to all I have taught.  If you love me, you will treasure and observe my teaching.  If you love me – if you feel an obligation and allegiance to me as if to a member of your own family – you will keep my commands, you will show faithfulness to all, you will treat every person as if they were family.

Jesus ends this passage with the same point he made at the beginning: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”  Fidelity to Jesus means fidelity to all.

Jesus will not leave us orphaned.  (I rather liked the old translation: “I will not leave you desolate,” but the word does mean ‘orphaned’.)  We are not abandoned.  We are not alone. Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the night he will be taken by the mob and thrust before Pilate and impaled upon the cross.  Jesus knows what is coming, but he will not leave his disciples abandoned and alone.  He will come to them.  It is a reference to that Sunday evening when Jesus revealed himself in their midst.  And Jesus will also come to them – come to us – in the Spirit that he breathed out upon his followers.

The Spirit is the living presence of Jesus in the community.  It is our ongoing teacher and guide.  It is the breath of life and font of grace.  It is the wonder of inspiration and the courage of love.  It is the comfort that comes to the downtrodden through simple acts of kindness and bold words of forgiveness – or simple words of forgiveness and bold acts of kindness.

The Spirit is the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world.

It is a truthful Spirit.  It inspires no deceit, tells no lies, creates no illusions.  It doesn’t deceive or manipulate or confuse.  It does not lead to doubt or despair.  It inspires mercy and forgiveness and courage and truth.  It inspires love and patience and kindness.  It inspires hope and joy.  It carries us from the sorrows of the world to the joy of God’s table.  It carries us from the brokenness of the world to a new birth from above.  It carries us from a wedding that has run out of wine to the eternal wedding feast.  It carries us from our isolation into community.  It carries us from death into life.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020.  All rights reserved

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Don’t lose your way

File:Shirakimine Highland - panoramio.jpg“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do.”
John 14:12

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Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way; keep us in your truth; enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 10, 2020

Acts 7:54-60: When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But, filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. (NRSV)

John 14:1-14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (NRSV)

1 Peter 2:1-2, 4-5, 9-10: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
…..10Once you were not a people,
……….but now you are God’s people;
…..once you had not received mercy,
…..…..but now you have received mercy. (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

There is a troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning.  But before I go there, I want to acknowledge that the current death toll in the U.S. on Saturday evening was 79,696.  Twelve thousand more have died since last Sunday.

I trust you have seen the information that those who are dying are disproportionally older, poorer, and non-white.  The numbers in nursing homes and prisons – both workers and residents – are distressingly high.  These are people our society tends to regard as less important than others.  The White House has a rigorous testing procedure and is now testing daily, but the White House Press secretary said this week that, for the rest of us, testing was unimportant.

This is one of our deep and troubling sins as a nation: we think some people matter more than others.  I don’t need to go through all the familiar inequalities in our country.  And maybe it’s something endemic in the human heart that I matter more than you, and my family matters more than yours, but the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I want to say that again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I don’t know whether our president is undermining the rule of law in our country or simply nakedly profiting from the truth that our system has always been tilted towards some and away from others.  Too often, whether in law or the economy or in health care we seem to regard some as if they don’t really matter.  That’s why two white men can shoot down a young African-American jogging through their neighborhood, and no one asks any real questions for two and a half months.  It’s why Trayvon Martin is dead for being black and wearing a hoodie.  It’s why Sandra Bland is dead in prison for failing to signal a lane change.  It’s why Stanford student Brock Turner served only three months in county jail and went home to his parents in Ohio.  It’s why Jeffrey Epstein bought his way out of prison for so long and why O. J. Simpson got to go home after killing Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

We can go on.  The story is long.  It’s why J. Edgar Hoover ordered the surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and listed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a black nationalist hate group.  It’s why Native American lands were stolen and its people sent to reservations.  It’s why Angel Island was used to quarantine and interrogate Chinese immigrants in order to refuse them admission.  It’s why Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps during World War II.  It’s why our president called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and opposes medical care for all citizens.

Some people matter more than others.  It’s not slavery, alone, that is our nation’s original sin; it is the belief that some matter more than others.  Some are not really people.  So our president calls neo-Nazis and gun-toting protesters with swastikas “good people” and Democrats and news reporters “human scum”.  It’s why Sara Palin said only some Americans are “real Americans.”

Some people matter more.  Others matter less.  It’s why we can tolerate hunger in America, why we can tolerate poverty, why we can tolerate hate, and why so many seem so willing to tolerate death by COVID-19.

On the one hand, we have vast numbers of people in this country risking their lives to protect others – doctors, nurses, health professionals, and all the support staff – fighting to keep people alive, or struggling to connect the dying with their loved ones – and yet our leaders dismiss leading health experts because they disagree with the president or say something truthful that embarrasses or contradicts him.

How can the president’s feelings matter more than the lives of our fellow citizens?  And how can my desire to get a haircut or go surfing matter more than the lives of my neighbors?

When Scripture talks about the judgment of God, it almost always speaks of God’s judgment on the nation.  God allows our sins to come back on our own heads.  But because such judgment is corporate, falling on the whole community, the consequences don’t fall on those who are most responsible; it falls on those who are most vulnerable.

During the terrible drought at the time of Elijah, the widow of Zarephath is perishing for want of food, while the king worries about his horses.

It is the most vulnerable who suffer.  And suffering came to Israel because the core values of the society had gotten twisted.  The prophets rail against idolatry not because God is concerned with correct worship, but because the values embodied by the idols are contrary to the commands and instruction of God.

God’s vision of a just society is overthrown when people’s fundamental allegiance is to wealth and power, when the king is above the law, when profit matters more than human life, when we close our eyes and ears to the well-being of others.  So I will say again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

The troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning is this: they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

The event being described by Luke is the martyrdom of Stephen.  The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are portrayed to us by Luke as a single community united in the apostolic teaching and mutual care.  But there are signs in the narrative that divisions existed.  The biggest challenge was the language and cultural divide between those residents of Jerusalem who had roots across the empire but had come to live in Jerusalem, and those who we might think of as more “native born”.

The language of those from other parts of the empire was Greek.  The language of those from the region was Aramaic.  And with those different languages were different cultural values.  For example, the Aramaic speaking Judeans were more likely to retain the ancient traditions about food.  And this soon become a problem: How do you share table fellowship around communion if some are keeping kosher and others are not?

We know, also, that there were concerns about the way food was shared in the community.  In the sixth chapter of Acts, the Greek speaking Judeans complain that their widows were not being treated equally with others.  In Luke’s account, this leads to the appointment of seven deacons, all of whom have Greek names.  It’s clear that these seven were not just those who help with the distribution of food; they were the leaders of the Greek speaking believers.  And when trouble arises and Stephen is killed by an angry mob, it is only the Greek speaking believers who are persecuted and driven from Jerusalem.  It was these Greek speaking believers who would go on to welcome Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles into the body of Christ.  It was these Greek speaking believers who sent Paul and Barnabas on their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the empire.  It was these Greek speaking Christians who made Christianity a world religion with doors open to all and not a tight-knit little club in Jerusalem.

The tragic line is that the crowd who heard Stephen speak covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

We live in a time when too many people close their ears and shout.  And too often it leads to violence.  When we are unable to hear, when we are unwilling to listen, when we shut our minds, closed hearts follow right behind.  Then the love of God is lost.  Then anger turns to hate, and hate turns to violence.  (They dragged Stephen “out of the city and began to stone him.” – Acts 7:58)

The attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.  So are closed minds and closed hearts.  The Christ before us has arms wide open.  He bids us live with hearts open, with minds open, with arms open.

I don’t have time to talk about the second reading this morning, but I would just remind you of its opening words: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” (2 Peter 2:1-2).  When 2 Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” he makes clear that we are not chosen for privilege, but for God’s mission in the world: “that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9)

The Gospel reading this morning begins with the familiar words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The words are familiar to us from many funerals where they can come as a sweet word of comfort in distressing times.  But there is something more than a sweet word of comfort here.  It is a call to remain faithful.

The word translated ‘hearts’ is actually in the singular.  It is not spoken to us as individuals; it is spoken to the community of Jesus’ followers.  It’s not about my personal distress, but our shared distress.

When we hear these words, it is the Last Supper.  Jesus has just informed his followers that Judas will betray him and Peter will disavow him.  These are stunning allegations, full of foreboding.  And Jesus has dropped these two bombshells on top of the radical act of washing their feet like the lowliest of slaves, and saying that his body will be broken like the bread (although, John’s Gospel does not include those words).

It is to a community at risk of coming apart that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It is to a community at risk of losing its identity as a community bound to Jesus and one another that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And the word ‘troubled’ here is used of water that is stirred up, or emotions that are overflowing.

Jesus needs his followers to remain faithful to God and himself.  Troubled times are about to crash over them, and Jesus wants them to remain faithful to himself and one another.  He has just given them the commandment to love one another and the example of bending to wash feet.  He is reminding them of who they are, and what they are to each other.

When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he is using a many-layered metaphor with allusions to the temple as the house of God, and to the grand estates of the time that could provide for very large households.  But the key word is ‘dwelling places.’  The Greek is from the word ‘to abide’ that has been used again and again in John’s Gospel to talk about the relationship of abiding in God and God abiding in us.

Jesus isn’t talking about what we typically think of as heaven.  Jesus isn’t setting out to make up the beds and put out the towels for all his guests.  Jesus is opening the way that we might dwell in God and God in us.

The way of the cross that Jesus is traveling will draw them into God’s presence like a branch to the vine.  It will connect them to God and one another and fill them with God’s spirit.  The Life of God will pulse through them bearing rich and abundant fruit.  The work of God in healing and reconciling the world will be at work in them and through them.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t lose your way.  Don’t be overcome with fear or confusion.  Continue to show allegiance to God and my teaching.  I am the way to the heart of God.  I am the truth of the heart of God.  I am the imperishable life at the heart of God.”

What seems like disaster is upon his followers, but Christ will come and stand in their midst and breathe his Spirit upon them, and we will be the living presence of Christ in the world.  We will be the open arms of Jesus that treasure every person.

There is a sweet and precious promise in this passage.  But there is so much more.  Christ dwells in us, in the community of Jesus’ followers, and through us Christ is present to the world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not lose your way.  Remain faithful to God.  Remain faithful to me.  I am going to the Father, but I will come and abide in you and you in me.”

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shirakimine_Highland_-_panoramio.jpg   oaaioai on Panoramio / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament.  The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain

“If you love me…”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres) - James Tissot.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

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Watching for the Morning of May 14, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

It will be Mother’s Day and I know the men are planning something that involves fruit and sparkling beverages (under the direction of our female staff!). And while the texts are not about mothers, they are about profound love. Stephen, beneath the assault of an outraged mob heavy with stones, prays for God to forgive his murderers even as Jesus prayed for his. The psalm not only speaks of a deep and profound trust in God but, like Stephen’s prayer, takes us to the lips of Jesus on the cross: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” The reading from 1 Peter urges us to “long for the pure, spiritual milk,” that we might “be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” All of which leads us to Jesus providing for his followers in the face of his impending death and declaring: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In this good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the heart of the universe is made visible.

Preaching Series: Genesis 2: Made for Relationship

This week we continue our special survey through the scriptures, prompted by Jesus’ teaching on the road to Emmaus when he led his followers through the scriptures to show how it points to the truth, visible in Jesus crucified and risen, of God’s redemptive love. The God who speaks and calls all things into being is now seen in the tenderness of forming the first human (Hebrew ‘adam’) from the ground (‘adamah’) and breathing into him the breath of life. It is a creature meant for relationship; “it is not good that the human should be alone.” And the search for the partner/companion equal to him leads ultimately to the deep sleep and a part taken to form another. Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’) – not those for ‘male’ and ‘female’, but words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

(The words are tricky to translate comfortably into English, but see Genesis 5:1-2 where it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.”)

The Prayer for May 14, 2017

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 14, 2017

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament. The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASofferenza_(1438714987).jpg By Roberto Ferrari from Campogalliano (Modena), Italy (Sofferenza) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The glory and end of the church

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Saturday

John 14:8-17, 25-27

26 The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

The rehearsal this morning and all the food in the kitchen fills me with anticipation for tomorrow (there’s a barbecue after worship). Sometimes I wish the culture had some connection to Pentecost like it does to Christmas and Easter. I would love there to be a big crowd tomorrow with the energy that comes from a crowd and a holiday. But, at the same time, I am glad that this holy day hasn’t been coopted by the culture. It still belongs to the church.

So the sanctuary is ablaze in red and candles. The bells will lead a festive procession. We will hear people reading in a host of different languages. We will be invited to come for a laying on of hands and a prayer for the Spirit to heal and renew. And this is the Sunday the bread and wine are brought down and blessed in our midst with an adaption of the ancient anaphora of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church attributed to John, the son of Zebedee.

It is a unique worship service in the year, the third of the three great festivals of Christian faith: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost; the mystery of the incarnation, the wonder of the resurrection, the miracle of the Spirit given.

The festivals are linked, of course. The birth of Jesus would be little remembered but for the cross and empty tomb. The Spirit poured out on Pentecost is the Spirit present in Jesus. And the gift of the Spirit to all nations is connected to the dawning of the new creation in the resurrection.

The world is being reborn. The Spirit of God is given. Death is losing its hold. The scattered are gathered. The broken made whole. The dead raised. The corrupt judged. The hungry fed. The peacemakers inheriting the world. The world may war around us, but the day is begun when swords are beaten into plowshares. And we are inspirited to live that new creation.

It is common for people to say that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. But it is more accurate to say that Pentecost bears witness to the end of the church, to the day when every heart is filled with the Spirit and preachers and teachers are no longer needed.

No longer shall they teach one another,
or say to each other, “Know the Lord,”
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.

 

Picture: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A2004_orford_03.JPG  By Ziko-C (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire and Wind

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Watching for the Morning of May 15, 2016

Year C

The Festival of Pentecost

Worship this coming Sunday is filled with powerful words and images: fire, stormy winds, life-giving Spirit, humanity’s rebellion from God and the collapse of the tower-building, empire-building, attempt by humanity to make a name for themselves. And behind the wind and fire stands the voice of God speaking at Sinai and the Israelites pleading for God to speak instead through Moses. And, ahead, the day when Babel is undone and all humanity gathered in perfect communion – a day that is dawned in Christ Jesus.

We begin on Sunday with the narrative from Acts 2 about Pentecost – the festival 50 days after Passover, at the end of the grain harvest, that remembered the revelation at Sinai when God gave the newly freed slaves the commandments that would guide them to be a just and merciful community. We hear how the Spirit fell upon Jesus followers, amidst the roar of wind and sight of flame, empowering them to proclaim God’s praise in every language. And in worship we will hear people reading Acts 2.38 (“Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) in many languages evoking that great and powerful day in which began the mission of the believers to the world.

Fire and wind – signifying the holy presence of God – and the voice of God sounding forth through Jesus’ followers. And then we will read of Babel and how humanity’s rejection of God’s command lead to confusion. We will hear the psalm sing of God’s Spirit that renews all life. We will hear Paul remind us that we have received God’s Spirit, that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, that we may walk in freedom and fidelity. And then we are again in John 14 hearing the promise of the Spirit, a promise fulfilled by the risen Christ.

And though worship will be fun and dramatic, and unique from all others in the year, it will also bid us come and kneel and pray for the Spirit to be stirred up within us – that we may know its healing and its power, that we might be faithful witnesses to the world.

The Prayer for May 15, 2016

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us
and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work.

The Texts for May 15, 2016

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Genesis 11:1-9
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” – Humanity’s rebellion against God’s command to fill the earth, in order to build a city and a name for themselves, leads to the multiplicity of languages and the confusion of human speech.

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31 (appointed: 24-34, 35b)
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”
– The poet sings of God’s wondrous creation and life-giving and renewing Spirit.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17 (Appointed: 14-17)
“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Paul writes that we are heirs of God’s promise, adopted as God’s sons and daughters and sharing in the Spirit.

Gospel: John 14:8-17, 25-27
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be our guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMildorfer%2C_Josef_Ignaz_-_Pentecost_-_1750s.jpg  By Creator:Josef Ignaz Mildorfer (http://www.gnadenquelle.eu/meditation.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not orphaned

9-11 memorial

Once More about Last Sunday

John 14:18-19, 23-29

18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live…Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…”

These words sound so esoteric and spiritual to us. We forget that they are very real to the first century. The temple was the dwelling place of God. There God lived among the people. There his Spirit was present. There God’s angels ascended and descended like Jacob’s vision at Bethel. There stood the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where heaven touched earth and sins were forgiven and prayers arose like incense.

And now the temple is gone.

There is a hole in Manhattan where the twin towers stood. Two holes. They have been made into beautiful pools, water flowing down their sides, the names of all the dead etched in black stone. It is a lovely memorial.

The World Trade Center was not, for us, where God was present. Far from it. But there is still a hole there, an ache, an absence of what was and its terrible price. Imagine that one site was the White House, Arlington, Monticello, the Library of Congress, the Treasury, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool between. All gone. All rubble. Stomped into the earth by a ruthless army; its treasures looted, with millions dead and nearly a million sold into slavery.

“I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” The God who is the protector of orphans and widows will come to this orphaned people. The God who dwelt in the temple will now dwell in this small band of students dwelling in Jesus’ word.

It is as though the Declaration of Independence survived and is now in the hands of one small band.

If we had experienced all this, we would not take up the Gospel like an imperial banner under which to conquer the world. We would be a community that washes feet. That welcomes the stranger. That loves one another. We would be a community that witnesses tears turned to joy like water to wine. We would be a community where eyes are opened and lives are healed. We would be a community that breathes the Spirit of God.

 

Photocredit: dkbonde

All Nations

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Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC

Watching for the Morning of May 1, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is still Easter. It will be Easter forever, but this is still the Easter season, and the empty tomb, and the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb upon the throne, and the river of life, and the gathering of all creation, continues to vibrate through our readings and song.

Paul and his companions have set out on their second missionary journey, visiting congregations they have planted and hoping to go into new regions. But the door is continually blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas and a vision leads them across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece and the ancient heart of Greek culture. There, across the sea, in the Roman colony of Philippi, the planted word takes root, beginning with Lydia and growing into Paul’s most beloved congregation.

The psalmist calls all nations and peoples to the ends of the earth to join the praise of God. John of Patmos sees the holy city, a light on a hill, beckoning all peoples. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life and the tree of life brings healing to the nations. And then Jesus speaks to his followers of the gift of the Spirit, the advocate/defender who will stand with us and call to mind all that Jesus has said. The new creation dawns, and the peace of God is given.

The Prayer for May 1, 2016

God of might and tenderness,
who makes the mountain shake
but breaks not the bruised reed
and sustains the flickering flame.
Help us to dwell in your peace,
and ever to take refuge in the Holy Spirit
whom you have sent as our advocate and defender,
our teacher and guide.

The Texts for May 1, 2016

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation of all things made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth, the prophet sees a city that is a beckoning light to all people and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 14:18-19, 23-29 (appointed: vv. 23-29)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus declares that he will not abandon his followers, but will send the Spirit to be their guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictoria%2C_BC_-_Christ_Church_Cathedral_-_stained_glass_28_-_Chapel_of_the_New_Jerusalem_(20623905782).jpg  by Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Orphaned

Wednesday

John 14

File:Baby squirrel (orphaned male) sleeping in human hand.jpg18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

‘Orphaned’ doesn’t seem to have quite the same emotional impact as ‘fatherless’. Maybe it’s my generation. Maybe it’s my own story. My brother was my surrogate father. Almost five years older, he was the one I looked to for connection, guidance, companionship. His were the footsteps I followed. I saw my real father holidays and summers; I loved him deeply. I love him deeply. But when I was small, the day to day fathering (and some bullying) came from Ken.

And then he died.

A brain aneurism a month before he turned 23. I was just 18, leaving home for college. Suddenly I felt like I was falling down stairs without walls or handrails. There was no guide. No listener. No one to say, “I remember when that happened to me.” No one to make all these new experiences normal. So I was alone, not only physically, away at school, but facing the future without any guide but one last letter, mailed the day before he died.

I cannot imagine the devastation of the cross for the followers of Jesus. Neither can I imagine the anxiety among John’s community as their teacher neared his end. He was an original witness. He had been their guide and teacher and leader for 50 years. How would they survive without him? What would hold them together? Who would keep them in the faith?

So John’s account of Jesus speaks not just of that time, long ago, when John received from Jesus the care of his mother. John’s account speaks of his own time as his final days draw near. And the word of Jesus he places before his community is this simple promise: “I will not leave you fatherless.”

“I am coming to you.” John puts the phrase in the present tense. Jesus is coming to us. It is his nature to come. Just as it is God’s nature to come. It is God’s nature to seek the lost, to gather the scattered, to bind up the wounded, to lead us to good pasture, to bring us into Life – to bring the whole creation to Life.

“I am coming to you.” Not just in scattered resurrection appearances, but in the Holy Spirit. In the abiding presence of the Father. In his own abiding presence in the community. In the bread and wine and word. In the love that he commanded.

“I am coming to you.” Again and again he comes, calling to mind all that he has said, reminding us of his promise, renewing in us his grace, summoning us into lives of witness and service.

Last words are things of power. I know how I clung to my brother’s last words. I know how his letter shaped me consciously and unconsciously. It led my path, ultimately to seminary and to the inner city.

And these last words of Jesus are words of power. Words that sustain. Words that comfort. Words that empower. Words that call forth the love he commanded. We are not orphaned. He is with us.