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A Highly Personal Question and a very Public Answer

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
Mark 8:27-38

 

8:27 “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O God, without you we are nothing, we pray that your Holy Spirit will fill our hearts to direct and guide our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Jesus is walking with his disciples when he asks them what people are saying about him. What a question!  Did you know that Jesus asked over 300 different questions in scripture and today we hear one of the most personal questions he ever asked?[i]

 

The disciples have been with Jesus for a while now, they have seen him at work, teaching, preaching, healing and praying. The disciples have seen it all so he asks them what others are saying about him.

 

The disciples respond, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say you are Elijah; still others say you are one of the prophets.”[ii]  Jesus listened.  He remained quiet as they kept walking and then Jesus gets intensely personal as he asks them point blank: “Who do you say that I am?”

 

Peter faithfully declares that Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the Messiah, the son of God, the one to save all of Israel.  Peter responded to Jesus question with a wonderful by the book answer but Jesus sees through his answer and pushes him further to answer with his heart and not just his head. “No, but who do you say that I am?”

 

Peter gives the same answer that we teach our confirmation class, the “book” answer, Jesus, the only begotten son of the living God.

 

Peter believed the Old Testament prophets who taught that the promises of God were fulfilled in the Messiah, who would be a deliverer, and a Savior of God’s people.  Peter believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the very one of who the prophet Isaiah spoke centuries before:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.[iii]

 

The New Testament and centuries of Church history also bear witness to who Jesus is, they tell that Jesus is:

God’s promised Messiah

Jesus is God Almighty.

Jesus came to save us from our sin

Jesus is the Son of God

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of lords

 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) defined who it believes Jesus to be as stated in the Brief Statement of Faith:

“We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.”[iv]

 

The whole purpose of  a church, is to be a gathered community of faith that bears witness to the truth that Jesus is the Son of the Living God…born in a manger, he lived a human life, was betrayed, convicted, died on a cross, rose on the third day, and lives forever.

 

Who we say Jesus is a question that the church has struggled to answer since its beginning and the church continues to try to answer today.  It is also the question that each individual believer must to define: “Who do you say that I am?”

I wonder how:

  • A child, growing up today in the United States, who was born and raised in a upper middle class family in suburbia… Who do you say that I am? Or a child born to a broken family in poverty, hungry, homeless living under a bridge… Who do you say that I am? Or a child living in a refugee camp in Africa, or a bombed out neighborhood in the Middle East? Who do you say that I am?

 

  • A teenager, struggling to find her identity, bombarded with images and ads telling her she is not thin enough, pretty enough, sexy enough… Who do you say that I am? Or the boy who is shunned by his family, ridiculed by his friends, uncertain about his sexuality…Who do you say that I am?

 

  • The college student facing freedom for the first time, intellectual insights and challenges that they have never dealt with, philosophical choices that push their morals like never before, not to mention friends and peers who influence them… Who do you say that I am? Or the young adult unable to find a job or make a living or be herself because of the stresses of family, economics and debt… Who do you say that I am? Or Military personnel, or family of an active Military personnel, who do you say that I am?

 

  • Who is Jesus to a Businessperson? Who is Jesus, to a Physician? Who is Jesus, to a nurse? Who is Jesus, to an attorney, a teacher, an engineer, a custodian, a cafeteria worker, a migrant worker, an illegal alien? Who do you say that Jesus is?

 

  • Who is Jesus to the Kentucky clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses? Who is Jesus to Pope Francis?

 

Some famous people respond to Jesus question by saying this:

–Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and Military leader in the 18th century:

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His Empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”[v]

 

–Mother Teresa, Roman Catholic Sister and Missionary:

Who served the poor and needy of Calcutta said that “Each one of them is           Jesus in disguise.”[vi]

 

–Mike Tyson, former champion heavyweight boxer:

“I’m a Muslim, but do you think Jesus would love me? I think Jesus would have a drink with me and discuss why are you acting like that? Now, he would be cool. He would talk to me. No Christian ever did that and said in the name of Jesus even. They’d throw me in jail and write bad articles about me and then go to church on Sunday and say Jesus is a wonderful man and he’s coming back to save us. But they don’t understand that when he comes back, that these crazy greedy capitalistic men are gonna kill him again.”[vii]

 

So here we are face to face with this personal question from Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”  This week I spent some time asking people just who they say Jesus is and here is what some said:

 

When it comes right down to it, the simplest way I can put it is and what I believe is Jesus IS God.[viii]

 

Jesus is the One who was with me even when I was eating the food of the pigs. You are the One who has called me by name to come and follow me.[ix]

 

It’s interesting the question is, “Who do you say that I am?”  He didn’t ask, “Who do you say that I was?” or “Who do you say that I will be?”  The question refers to the here and now of Jesus.[x]

 

  1. Jesus is the person that cut you off in traffic
  2. Jesus is the person beside/next/front/back of you everywhere
  3. Jesus is your best friend
  4. Jesus is your greatest enemy
  5. Jesus is a baby’s cries
  6. Jesus is forests, deserts, seas, and hills[xi]

 

I fail to understand how it would be possible to be in Jesus’ presence and not sense the divine.[xii]

 

          I love that you said, “Very personal question.” To think that Jesus was leaned in close, just having a conversation with his friends…that’s a great mental image.  My answer?  Well, it’s overly simplistic…but I think “love.” I believe Jesus was love lived out for us, and by virtue of that, when we show love for others, believers and non-believers…friends or foes…we are living love…and sharing Jesus and his message.[xiii]

 

Jesus is the son of God.[xiv]

 

As musician music and hymns really speak to me and the lyrics and words say it much better than I can so it is the hymn #210, Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.”[xv]

 

Now it is my turn:

 

At this point in my ministry but more importantly my life right now I wonder who Jesus is to me.      When someone asks I can give the theological answer, “Jesus Christ is the son of God,” I can give a biblical answer, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6) but what I really want to say is from my heart and my soul…Jesus is the great physician and healer but he is also the one to point out my sin and brokenness, he is the forgiver of sin and he offers grace but it is not cheap grace.  It is costly grace that challenges me to deny myself and take up my cross and follow him. Jesus comforts me in my afflictions but he afflicts me in my comfort.  He is my Lord and Savior but he challenges me to be more open and accepting of others.  He is God’s son to save the world and he loves even me for the bible tells me so and he loves me so much that he died for my sin and he loves me enough not to let me live in it.  Jesus is everything to me but even more to all of us:  He is God, savior, mediator, sacrificial lamb for our sin, advocate, comforter, and Lord.

 

Now it is your turn: “Who do you say that I am?”

 

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, we confess that you are He – the blessed Son of God and our Savior.  Make us bold in our witness, our service and love, that we too might be known by what we profess about you. Amen.

 

[i]The Rev. Martin Copenhaver, “Eating Jesus” John 6:51-69, 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B August 26, 2012
The Rev. Martin Copenhaver is senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church UCC in Wellesley, MA. http://day1.org/4043-eating_jesus

[ii] Mark 8:28, NRSV, Scripture texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Lections are from the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings. See the Terms of Use for copyright details. The online Revised Common Lectionary is a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a division of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Support is provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

[iii] Isaiah 42:1, NRSV, Scripture texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Lections are from the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings. See the Terms of Use for copyright details. The online Revised Common Lectionary is a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a division of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Support is provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

[iv] A Brief Statement of Faith of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), section 10.2. 1983.

[v] Napoleon Bonaparte. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2012. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/napoleonbo161724.html, accessed September 11, 2012.

[vi] Mother Teresa. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2012. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/mothertere163850.html, accessed September 11, 2012.

[vii] Mike Tyson. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2012. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/miketyson369860.html, accessed September 11, 2012.

[viii]Theresa Blanton  via ad3admasst@skillsdevelopmentservices.org e-mail

[ix] John Hinkle via liverhash@gmail.com e-mail

[x] Jeff Anderson via jeff_anderson@ck-mail.com e-mail

[xi] Dan Townes via dan@shepenco.com e-mail

[xii] Chris Heard via cph163@united.net e-mail

[xiii] Sharon Edwards via sharonedwards405@gmail.com e-mail

[xiv] Frank Robinson  via flrconsulting@bellsouth.net e-mail

[xv] Wayne Bomar via conversation, Hymn #210, “Our God our Help in Ages Past, The Presbyterian Hymnal, and Words: Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David, 1719. Music: St. Anne, William Croft, 1708.

More than Enough

2 Samuel 11:1–15
Psalm 14
John 6:1–21

 

6:1 “After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” (John 6:1-21, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O God, you are the sustainer of the hungry, like a mother you long to feed your children until each is satisfied. So, we pray that you would turn our eyes and our hearts to you alone, that, aware of our own deepest longings, we will reach out with Christ to feed others with the miracle of your love. Amen.

 

I have always heard it said that you had better be careful what you try to teach or what you say to your children because it may come back to haunt you.

 

Monnie and I decided when we had children that we did not want to raise spoiled kids and give them everything that they want.  We really did!  So, we frequently say to them when they beg for something, “Now you know you don’t really need that, you have enough toys or shoes or sports gear.  I am not going to buy that for you.”  Well, as in most cases this too came back to haunt us.

 

One story in particular that I remember from a few years ago.  Monnie was in a shoe store and they were having a great sale, not just a good sale but a great sale.  So, naturally she bought a pair of shoes for herself, just a basic pair of flip flops and as she told me they were cheap and it was a deal.   Did I mention it was a fabulous deal?  She went on to say that the whole way home, all she heard from the kids was “You did not really need those.  Look at all the shoes in your closet.  Did you really need another pair of flip flops?”  To which she answered, “Yes I did.”

 

So, this week as I am reading this text the question keeps haunting me, “How much is enough?”

 

Some people say that “enough is enough.”  When you have enough of anything it means you have an adequate amount.  You have enough money to pay your bills, you have enough food to eat, and you have enough clothes to wear.   But knowing what is enough gets really tricky, for we all know in our world today that there are plenty of people, me included, who have and enjoy much more than enough.   In many ways it is what brought on our current economic divide in our country.   Some people who have plenty don’t think they have enough, so they kept acquiring more and more.  People began amassing great fortunes and stock piling goods and things and worrying that it is not enough.  Others began to live beyond their means and if there isn’t enough money to pay the bills they just get another credit card and add on more debt.  Buy now, pay later.  Most all of us are caught in the endless cycle of thinking we never have enough and we are always in need of more, we live as if we don’t have enough.

 

Even so, what is enough is relative.  In many third world countries it would take a family 40 years to earn the equivalent of the United States poverty level income.  Pretty sobering thought.

 

So whether we are talking about a trivial thing of buying a cheap pair of unnecessary flip flops or much more important matters of basic food, water, clothing and a roof over your head, how much is enough?

 

Where and when did we start to think that we always need more?  Living this way is living with a mindset of “scarcity,” thinking there is not enough to go around. It is right here in our Gospel reading.

 

The familiar story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle that makes it into all four Gospels.  So obviously all four Gospel writers knew this to be a significant story in Jesus’ ministry.

 

Five thousand people show up to hear Jesus and it is time to eat and there is not enough food.  End of story.  You can’t feed people with what you don’t have.  When the cupboard is empty you simply don’t eat.  When the bank account is at zero there is no more money.

 

All these people had been following Jesus, frantically wanting him to heal them.  When their stomachs start to grumble. Jesus asks Philip a pretty straightforward question.  “How are we going to feed all these people?”  It is almost like Jesus is testing Philip.   And Philip responds, “There is no way.  Half a year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed all these people.”  Then Andrew, another disciple points out that there is a boy with a snack but what difference could that possibly make.  How could five loaves and two fish satisfy this hungry crowd?   Philip and Andrew are operating under that mindset of scarcity, unable to see the possibility of God’s great abundance.

 

But Jesus is operating under a whole other mindset, a mindset that has been present since the very beginning of John’s Gospel.  The theme that runs throughout this fourth Gospel is a theme of abundance.  It is a constant refrain.  We see it in the story of the wedding at Cana when Jesus turns water into wine, wine in abundance for all the guests, plenty for everyone.  We also see it in the passage we often read at funerals when Jesus says “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  There are not just a few, there is in abundance, lots of space to accommodate all who are held in God’s grace.

 

And here today we see this theme of abundance from the story.  Of course there is enough, everyone is fed and in fact there are leftovers. There is more than enough.

 

Now, I am not trying to diminish this miraculous story to saying that Jesus will provide, all we have to do if ask.  I am not saying that when we are hungry we simply hold out our hand and Jesus will drop of loaf of bread in it.  That is much too pious for my belief.  I know full well that there are starving people in the world, there are hungry people in the United States, there are struggling people in our Cincinnati, and there are desperate people who do not have enough to meet their daily needs right down the hill from us.  And many of these people are Christians who have prayed and prayed and haven’t seen any manna dropping from heaven or food showing up on their doorstep.  I know that.  But there is still enough.  The problem is that so many of us have taken so much, worried that there won’t be enough to go around.  We have all heard that in the United States we have enough resources so that no one needs to go hungry.   We do have the resources and the gifts and the talents so that no one need go thirsty.   We have the ability to care for the sick and the dying and homeless.  We have a great abundance of everything in our nation – the difficulty is how to meet the ever growing needs.  The solution is much more difficult and it is way over my head, but I know there is enough for everyone.

 

That is the essence of this story, God provides enough to go around.  God even provides a surplus, but that does not let us off the hook.  In fact, it calls us to step forward and do our part.  We can’t just sit back and wait for God to drop food from the sky, we have to share out of our own abundance.  We have to look at what we have and offer it to others.  Remember that there is no such thing as “my” bread or “your” bread but “our” bread”.  After all every week we say “Give us this day OUR daily bread.”  There is enough.  We just need to start living like there is.

 

And of course the story is about far more than bread.  It is about God and God’s abundance. It is about a view of everything, money, food, water, resources and grace.  Abundance not scarcity. It effects everything from how we treat others to how we give to the church.

 

It seems to me that our church has been living with a mindset of scarcity and I believe that we need to open ourselves to the abundance that is all around us.  It is shocking to admit that we good people of the Indian Hill Church have been operating under the mindset of scarcity.  Our budget has gone down, down, down over the past few years and yet we struggle to meet it.  We should have no trouble meeting our budget even exceeding our budget, we should have a great surplus to meet our own expenses and then be able to give to those in need around us.  We should never have to cut out budget for outreach to our community, because ewe have more than enough. We have all been so richly blessed.

 

It is right here in John’s Gospel Jesus shows there is plenty, more than enough to go around.  God’s grace is abundant.  God’s blessing is extravagant and over flowing.  It is not meant to be hoarded and saved and stashed away.  It is meant to be used and shared and spread around.  Just as we are called to break off a piece of bread and share it with others, once grace has been poured out on us, we don’t just hold on tight to it.  We share it.  We tell others about it.  We want others to experience this abundant grace just like we have.  Because there is so much to go around.  It will never run out, it will never be scarce.  There is more and more and more.

 

Because God is present always among us, there is plenty of grace, plenty for all the crowds.  Grace upon grace.  Amen.

 

Let us pray:

 

A Measure of Compassion

 

2 Samuel 7:1–14
Psalm 89:20–37
Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

 

6:30 “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

 

53 “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Shepherd God, you call us into a rhythm of work and rest that our lives may be the better for it. So shape our work and our rest that the world will recognize us as Jesus’ disciples and our service as what you would have us do. Amen.

 

It was a surreal experience getting a text message that your home town is in the midst of a mass shooting.  Midafternoon on Thursday my middle brother sent me a text message about an “active shooter in Chattanooga.”  Chattanooga is the city where we grew up.  The news was sketchy but as the day went on it only got worse. Rumors swirling that it was an ISIS attack on military installments.  What about my family, friends and the people I know back there.  Are they safe?  What has happened to the world?  Violence and death and terror seem to rule the day.  As the day turned to night the details continued: four US Marines were dead, a policeman was injured and a US Navy Sailor was in critical condition and has since died.  Then came the news that the gunman, a Muslim, was dead.

 

What makes this reality even worse is that it creates more discontent and more animosity for interfaith relations.  It allows the critics to point out the fact that it is not only radicalized Muslims that are a threat to us but even naturalized citizens who seem like all American guys can actually be wolves in sheep clothing.  For supporters of building interfaith bridges it sets back the cause because yet again it is one of “them” that has done this cowardly and disastrous act.

 

As I learned more about the Chattanooga shootings I remembered the parts of town that rolled of the tongues of the newscasters Lee Highway, Amnicola Highway, Hixson, Colonel Shores, Red Bank High School, all places I am very familiar with.  How can this happen where I grew up?

 

The Mayor of Chattanooga Andy Berke, who was a grade school classmate of mine was all over the television and his quote said it all “it is incomprehensible to see what happened and the way that individuals who proudly serve our country were treated.”[1]  The victims of the crime were rushed to Erlanger Medical Center, the hospital where my father practiced medicine. It is just so surreal and my emotions run the gamut from anger, sadness, rage and compassion.

 

I have been thinking about this for a few days now and I realize that violence is all too common place and I have to admit that I may not have paid as close attention if this violent act took place in Wichita or Dubuque.  Have we become so callous to violence and death that it just washes over us like the weather reports and sports highlights?  After all it was just a month ago that Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers at the bible study at the Immanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.  It was on Thursday night that a jury in Colorado found James Holmes guilty of first-degree murder in the mass shooting inside of a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

 

I am not feeling particularly Christian in my thoughts and feelings and I am not moved to compassion for those who commit these cowardly acts of violence in death for their misguided beliefs and interpretations of holy writings.  Whether it is a White Supremacist, an Islamic Terrorist or a lawbreaking cop.  Their acts of violence and terrorism that seek to change the world that God created and God sustains and that God redeemed through Jesus are wrong and evil and we can’t stand for them anymore.  Yes, I am angry and passionate about this because it hurts, it hurts us all when it seems that evil is wining and violence continues.  Have we lost all sense of compassion?

 

And that is what this sermon was supposed to be about before the tragic events of Thursday afternoon took place.

 

Compassion. The word compassion has its root in a word that means “guts” or the seat of feeling. You know the saying, “You feel it in your gut.”  You know that feeling – where your reaction to something sends your stomach churning.  That’s compassion – a visceral feeling.  Jesus has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd, lost, lacking guidance, in need of care, and of protection.

 

But for Jesus, compassion is not just a feeling but an action.  And Jesus shows his followers that compassion is essential to discipleship. Compassion, this gut feeling causes you to go outside of yourself to care for another.

 

For Jesus and his followers, compassion is not an optional, there is no vacation from showing and giving compassion.  The reason is simple: Compassion is who Jesus is. Jesus has come proclaiming a God who is not uncaring but compassionate.  But what if Jesus were to say: “Sorry, I can’t be compassionate right now, I’m on vacation”? It contradicts his very message, his very being.  If Jesus stops being compassionate, he stops being Jesus; he stops being the Son of God.

 

Of course Jesus is going to show compassion.  What else is new?   As if Jesus is just automatically going to cease to have compassion on anyone who comes along. Yet we dare not take the compassion of Jesus for granted, because when you think about it, it is an extraordinary thing, a monumental thing, that Jesus should have compassion on “them.”

 

See, the thing that really gets me about this statement is not that “compassion on them”, but that Jesus had compassion on “them.”

 

Can’t you see them, waiting like a bunch of vultures for Jesus and the disciples when they got out of the boat, clamoring, demanding: “Jesus, heal me first . . . Jesus, give me some food . . . Jesus, make me feel better,” They are dirty, sweaty, needing a bath, so loud and demanding.  And Jesus has compassion on “them.”

 

Now I’m all in favor of compassion.  Given the right circumstances, I can be very compassionate. I was moved to compassion a few weeks ago when Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers at the bible study at the Immanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.   I feel compassion for my family.  I feel compassion for friends who face hard times.  I hurt deeply for them.  I know what it is to feel compassion.  No, my problem is feeling compassion for “them.” Them, a word we use to distance ourselves from a particular type of people or group of people. Them and Us, I am so glad I am not one of them. Would you look at them and how they are acting?

 

You know what I am talking about: Them! The people who are not like us, who don’t look, act, worship, and live like we do. They have different values and morals and lifestyles. The people we don’t want to show or share compassion with. You know —“them!”

 

Jesus interrupts the disciples’ vacation to them.  They are not the handpicked and well qualified, they are everywoman and everyman, anyone and everyone.  They were people: some who are sick and wanted to be healed.  Others who are hungry and wanted to be fed.  Still others had spiritual needs and hungers that were eating away at their souls.  These are precisely the ones who “Jesus had compassion on.”

 

That is why this unassuming story from Mark in between the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water is so radical: “Jesus had compassion on ‘them.’” It upsets all the careful arrangements of our world.

 

Jesus has compassion precisely on the ones the world tells us to ignore. The least, the last and the lost, the “riff-raff” with whom Jesus associated.

 

Maybe it is the events of this week or maybe it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I realize that this story is more of a blessing than an indictment because  in a very strange twist – I realize that Jesus compassion on them includes me and us.

 

If we can understand that, if we can begin to know that God has compassion on us just as we are, then perhaps we can begin to feel compassion on the ones we consider as “them.”

 

You know:

The next time you see someone who really turns your stomach, stop and think, “Wait, Jesus had compassion on them.”

 

Next time you come across someone who is dirty and smelly and unpleasant, let the thought come to your mind: “Jesus had compassion on them”

 

Next time you come across someone who pushes every one of your buttons: “Imagine, Jesus had compassion on him or her.”

 

Next time you we hear of violence and terror: “Imagine, Jesus had compassion on them”

 

Thanks be to God, Jesus had compassion – especially on them.  Because “them,” includes all of “us.”

 

Let us pray:

[1] Twitter feed of Andy Berke and also found on http://www.npr.org/2015/07/17/423740589/chattanoogans-find-killings-of-four-marines-incomprehensible

No Guarantee of Success

2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10
Psalm 48
Mark 6:1–13

 

6:1 “He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6: 1-13, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of grace and powerful weakness, at times your prophets were ignored, rejected, belittled, and unwelcome. Trusting that we, too, are called to be prophets, fill us with your Spirit, and support us that we may persevere in speaking your word and living our faith. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

 

I know it is strange but I really do enjoy mowing the lawn.  Call me crazy, I know!  Let me explain, what I love about it is the sense of accomplishment.  What I enjoy is I can see what I have done and what I still have to cut. Not all jobs and tasks in life are like that.  Other jobs and tasks are not so clearly defined.

Being a follower of Jesus is one such task or calling.  Jesus tells parables about casting seeds on the ground and having faith that they will take hold and grow.  He admits that not every seed will flourish.  In today’s gospel he prepares his disciples for the harsh reality that not everyone they encounter is going to join the movement.

 

In the Gospel of Mark we learn that Jesus’ ministry is off to a great start.  His has preached throughout Galilee, he has recruited disciples, he has healed the sick, performed miracles, survived theological arguments with the Pharisees, he has calmed a violent storm on the sea, and the crowds gathered to hear his words.  Then he and his disciples go to Nazareth, his hometown.[1]

 

Now you would think it would be one of the high points of Jesus’ ministry to go back home…to family and friends, the people that Jesus grew up with; they were his teachers, his childhood friends, the mothers and fathers who had seen this son of Mary grow up. Up until this point, everywhere Jesus went the crowds loved him and the people were moved by what they had seen and heard through Jesus.

 

So, why this sort of treatment from his neighbors and hometown friends. Why such disdain?  Was it something he said?  Perhaps it’s just that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. Jesus wasn’t what they expected a prophet, let alone a Messiah, to look like.  No one they knew could be a prophet or a Messiah and it surely called into question everything they thought they knew about the world and about people and about themselves. It is a hard lesson of life to learn that not everyone will like you or what you say or what you stand for.[2]

 

It is the difficult truth of the Christian faith and the church, in the end it is not for everyone.

 

Another difficult truth of the Christian faith is the naive idea that if you treat people like you want to be treated, that is treat them well, then people will like you and respond.

 

But that is not what the Christian faith is about— being liked.  The Christian faith, being a disciple, is about loving God and loving our neighbors. Even in disagreement, love God and love our neighbors, but that isn’t so easy.  And that is why Jesus is preparing his disciples for the harsh truth of life as he tells them, “As you leave, shake the dust off your feet…”

 

Jesus prepared his disciples for rejection because there is something inherent about following him that causes controversy. Something about the Gospel that provokes hostility and creates conflict that brings about rejection to the messenger.[3] It is the reality of the church, of faith, that we aren’t all going to agree about everything. There are parts of faith that simply aren’t black and white, most aspects of faith are gray.

 

But yet, having a conversation, being open to sharing your views and listening to others is important, is faithful and what the church can do more of. So, here it goes for today.

 

I imagine that the thoughts on most of our minds over the past few weeks have been on national events such as; racial violence, confederate flags, the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage all leading up to the Fourth of July the celebration of the birthday of our great nation.

 

It seems that when the Supreme Court or the government or the ruling body of a church denomination makes a decision it splits us into two groups: those for it and those against it?  Does every political or social issue have to divide us as a people?  Divide us as a church?  I hope and pray not.[4]

 

So, as people of faith we turn to the Bible for guidance and in most cases it isn’t clear cut.  Take marriage for example, as best as I understand, marriage is the creation of a stable social structure in which children can be born and raised.  It is the logical outcome of what God says in Genesis 1:28, in which God says to the Adam and Even whom he has just created, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  In the very next chapter Genesis 2:24 it says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves or embraces his wife and they become one flesh.” This is how humans multiply.  A man and a woman “cleave/embrace” to each other.  Biologists call it reproduction or procreation.

This seems to be the primary purpose of marriage in the Bible, and for that reason it is necessarily between a man and a woman.  But not only one woman.  Early in the Bible there is the story of Jacob who married first Leah and then Rachel and then had children by their hand maidens Bilhah and Zilpah. Ultimately Jacob produced twelve sons and who knows how many daughters.  But I don’t know many people these days who hold up the example of Jacob as the model for what the Bible says about marriage.  Instead we talk about a lifetime of love and commitment.  But most biblical marriages were not based on love or attraction.  Most marriages were arranged by parents who lived in an agricultural society and they needed more workers for the fields.  It wasn’t about love; it was about multiplication.[5]

 

Times have changed, we no longer live in an agricultural society. Likewise our understanding of marriage has changed as well.  Today, a woman gets married because she falls in love with a man and wants to spend the rest of her life with him. A man gets married for the same reason. And while they may want a family at some point that is no longer the sole reason for marriage.

 

I have officiated at a dozen or so weddings for couples in their sixties, seventies and even their eighties.  One in particular comes to mind. Bob and Willene, each had survived the loss of a spouse after more than fifty years of marriage.  They both had grown children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  They were getting married because they were lonely, and they had fallen in love and they longed for companionship.  So, times have changed as our understanding of marriage has changed since biblical times.  It’s not just about multiplication anymore.  It’s about love and commitment.  And our understanding of human beings has changed.

 

Most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex, some people are attracted to members of the same sex. Why, we don’t really know?  Is it nature or nurture? Genetic?  Is it something learned?  As far as I can see, whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be a choice. But that is for another sermon.

 

And so the Supreme Court has decided that, since marriage is no longer strictly about multiplication, but rather a matter of love and commitment, and since people don’t seem to choose whom they are attracted to, but rather discover those attractions at an early age, then who are they to tell two adults that they can’t share their lives with each other? That they can’t have joint ownership of property and joint custody of children? The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is a civil right, and that withholding that right on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is unconstitutional.[6] Like it or not, for it or against, it is what it is—

But that is not the real point to me.  Instead the point to me is what I believe being a Christian, a follower of Jesus is really all about—how do we treat others?  We have a new law of the land that reflects the reality of our times.  What I believe is important is how we treat people in light of it, especially those who see things differently than we do?

 

I was taught in preaching 101 that the majority of people don’t come to church to hear about politics, especially the politics of the preacher, especially when the politics of the preacher differ from theirs.  Even so, I know that these issues are controversial, painful, and divisive but here’s the thing: you and people you know are talking about them.  You are talking about them with your friends, your family members, your co-workers.  You are talking about just these things everywhere…just not at church. Which is why of all places church should be the place you come to talk about these issues and many others.

 

I enjoy the dialogue, the learning from others about issues and I have heard from many of you that you would like a time to talk about the sermons I preach and the message of them.  So, today grab some coffee and a cookie and come to the library and we can talk about these issues and/ or any of the other hard things going on in life and in the news.  I think this is role of the Church and the task of Christian formation and discipleship, to offer perspectives on how the Scriptures and our faith help us navigate this very challenging world.

 

Which is really the reason I’m bringing all this up – not simply because there are huge issues in the news but more importantly – because the Gospel passage appointed for this week has a lot to tell us about what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ in a challenging, difficult, confusing, and at times painful world which is also and simultaneously created and loved of God.

 

There have been a lot of changes in our country in the last few weeks, but as the author of Hebrews says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (13:8).

What does Jesus say about gay marriage? Nothing at all.

What does he say about the Affordable Care Act? Nothing.

What does he say about the Confederate flag? Nothing.

What He does say over and over is to love our neighbors…

Remember in the parable of the Good Samaritan he makes it clear that the people or groups of people we have the hardest time loving are also our neighbors. Samaritans were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ time, but the Samaritan in his story stopped and helped a Jew who had been beaten and left for dead. What would Jesus say to us in these days when some people have been shot because their skin was black and others have been allowed to marry even though they are gay?  I’m fairly certain he would say, “Love your neighbor.” And I like to think he might add (although I don’t want to put words in his mouth) that the commandment to love applies to everyone with no exceptions, that those of us who follow Jesus must love our all our neighbors, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist and even the neighbors who call the SPCA because our dog barks too much.  Let us leave the work of judgment up to God and the Supreme Court and focus on our calling, as difficult as it is – to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.[7]

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. Sid Batts, The Gospel of Rejection, Mark 6: 1-13. Government Street Presbyterian Church, Mobile, Alabama July 9, 2000.

[2] The Reverend Dr. David Lose, Pentecost 6 B – Independence & Interdependence, Mark 6: 1-13. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-6-b-independence-and-interdependence/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29

 

[3] ibid

[4]The Reverend Dr. Jim Somerville, In Light of Recent Events, June 29, 2015. https://jimsomerville.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/in-light-of-recent-events/

 

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Storms, Fear and Faith

1 Samuel 17:1, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
Mark 4:35-41

 

4:35 “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

 

Let us pray: God our protector, you stood by David in the time of trial. Stand with us through all life’s storms, giving us courage to risk the danger it may take to protect those who are oppressed and poor, that they may know you as their stronghold and hope. Amen.

 

As a pastor preparing sermons is a process and the best laid plans can sometimes be derailed. This was one of those weeks where my sermon was headed in one direction until the events of Wednesday evening when a cowardly young man decided to visit a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and do unspeakable violence to innocent Christian people just because of the color of their skin.  It seems to me that we have taken a monumental step backward as a society with guns, violence, hate, race, and understanding.

 

I know that this was an isolated attack by a confused and angry young white male who is afraid that his way of life and worldview are being challenged but it is painful to watch, hear, listen and live with this sort of reprehensible act becoming all too common place.

 

I find great solace and comfort in the faithful response of the families of the nine victims of Wednesday evening’s murders as the preliminary hearing was going on. Each of them one by one told of their great loss and sorrow but then in what I can only characterize as a true act of faith they said they forgave the murderer.  Friends that is more faith and courage than I will ever have.

 

Which gets me back to the Gospel reading from Mark.  Jesus and his disciples are caught in a storm at sea. Which can be scary in and of itself.  Storms, Fear and Faith these three words seem to capture this text.

 

There is a whole lot going on in this story.  The disciples are afraid.  They are traveling toward unfamiliar territory.  They are afraid because they know what can happen in a storm.  Their boat can capsize.  They can be overwhelmed by the wind and the waves. They can drown. There’s something dangerous about a storm especially one at sea that we ought to fear.[1]

 

So we understand the disciples fear as they face this storm at sea and we often we spiritualize their fear of the storm.[2]   We apply this story to all the things we fear in our world.   We look at the fear in this story, and we relate that fear to the fear we have of the storms of life that surround us.  The storm of racial violence and murder. The storms of evil.   Also, the personal storms we live through and batten down our own hatches against.

 

And we deal with that fear of those storms by recalling the words of Jesus from this text. “Have you still no faith?” We take that rebuke of Jesus, and off we go beating ourselves and each other up for not having more faith.  In spite of the fact that Jesus Christ is with us in the midst of the storm, and it seems he always wakes up in time to calm the storm.

 

So, we tell ourselves that if we had enough faith, we could overcome our fears. After all, in our culture, fear is a flaw, it is something we’re supposed to overcome.  Fear is something we get professional help with.  There are people out there who can help us with our fears, they can help us overcome the fear of flying, the fear of spiders and snakes, the fear of heights, the fear of crowds, and the fear of storms.  We should just overcome this fear, we tell ourselves, and we can do that by just having more faith!  Because, after all, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

 

But, what if the storm is not what the disciples were afraid of?  What if the disciples were more afraid of Jesus than the storm?[3] Mark says that the disciples were still afraid even after Jesus stills the seas and wind with his voice.  Mark points out that the disciples experience another kind of fear altogether: the fear of being in the presence of the one powerful enough to calm the storm, they realize that they are in the presence of the living God.

 

It’s His power that they’re afraid of. “Who is this,” they say, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  They sense that there’s something about this power that is dangerous.  If Jesus can do what he did with that storm, then what might he do to us?  No wonder those disciples were afraid.  In the presence of that kind of God, who wouldn’t be?  For what can be safe, in such a presence? Anything? Anyone? No.

 

Sometimes this fear is described as a reverential awe, and it’s important to distinguish that kind of emotion from a terror of some known or unknown threat.  I think that the disciples fear was somewhere in between awe and terror and that is often the reaction that comes from an experience of God.

 

Why should they be scared of Jesus? Because he challenged everything they knew about life, faith and even the storms at sea.  He was bringing about change and change no matter what kind is scary.  Just because he stilled a storm does not mean that he did not create more chaos than calm.   If even the wind and the rain listened to him, what else might he do?

-well, he might say that life is more than money and a job

-he might say that to follow Jesus is to deny yourself

-he might say that compassion and service are far more important than power and control

-he might say that death is not really the enemy

-he might even say that forgiveness is more important than vengeance

 

You see, Jesus might just tell these disciples that life is about more than them, faith is about than getting even, following Christ is about more than being successful.  It is hard stuff.  When we think that following Jesus is always peaceful and happy, then we miss the point.  Following Jesus is counter cultural, counter intuitive, because it causes us to look at the world and ourselves differently.

 

Yes, the disciples survived the storm but now what?  They couldn’t go back to the way it was, they knew too much.  They had just witnessed Jesus doing the impossible, a miracle, calming mother-nature something beyond human ability and comprehension.  They can’t control the world.  They can’t control Jesus.  They were filled with fear and awe, they were changed forever.

 

Ultimately what acknowledging the awesomeness of God does is that it makes us realize that we are not in control of the world and that that is Good News.  We can’t calm the winds and the rain and we can’t make ourselves forgive in the face of evil.  Only God can do that.  Only God can step into the storm, step into our heart and say “fear not.”  It is going to be ok.  Now take a deep breath and let go, let me take over and give you the strength that surpasses any human understanding.

 

So all this has had me thinking, if a basic part of the Christian faith is to remind each other that while God may be so much bigger than we’d thought, and that while the life of faith may be at times be much harder than we’d bargained for, God will not abandon us.  Not to the violent storms of life, or the hurricane like winds of our personal fears or even to the senseless acts of violence and murder. God will come, stilling wind and wave, calming the fear-ridden heart, telling us again that we are His own beloved children.

 

And when we remind ourselves that we are beloved children of God.  We are offering words of comfort to each other with the news of God’s steadfast love.  We are part of the greatest messages throughout Scripture, Fear not, do not be afraid!

 

So, I invite you today not only to admit the power we sometimes give over to our fears, but to take a moment right now and turn to your neighbor in the pew – and say to one another: “You are God’s beloved child; do not be afraid.”[4]

 

Let us pray: Dear Lord, it is scary when we don’t understand. It is unsettling when we feel out of control, or actually are out of control. We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want our family or friends to hurt. We know you care—but we don’t understand and we are afraid. Calm the winds of our fears and the waves of their distress. Please. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

[1] The Reverend Dr. Ted Wardlaw, a sermon entitled, The Danger in the Water, based on Mark 4:35-41 preached on July 20, 1997. Found at http://day1.org/838-the_danger_in_the_water

[2] Ibid

[3] The Reverend Dr. David Lose, Mark 4: 35-41Pentecost 4 B: On Miracles and Change, http://www.davidlose.net/

 

 

[4] Ibid.

Family Matters

1 Samuel 8:4-11; 16-20
Psalm 130
Mark 3:20-35

The Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

3:20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of judgment and mercy, when we hide ourselves in shame, you seek us out in love. Grant us the fullness of your forgiveness, that as one people, united by your grace, we may stand with Christ against the powers of evil. Amen.

 

It is summer time and that means many things. Sun, swimming, gardens, picnics, fresh fruit and produce.  It also means family reunions.  A family reunion—that special occasion when many members of an extended family come together to celebrate.

 

Everyone comes to a huge picnic and shares in a meal with lots of talking and storytelling and gossip.  You can almost hear it now. “Would you just look at Uncle Bob? You know he is an alcoholic.  Well there is Aunt Debbie, I can’t believe she showed up after she ran off with her personal trainer.  Look there is Cousin Steve, who is gay and crazy Sally, she is into that conservative religious movement.” Getting all of these misfits together and sharing in a meal and fellowship and storytelling can only be a family reunion because that is the only thing that would bring us all together.

 

Being together. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, first, second, and third cousins.  If there is one human experience that is important to most of us it is our family.  Even in the midst of dysfunction, conflicts, painful circumstances, such as illness, divorce, and death, we often turn to our families.  In a sense, no matter how dysfunctional they seem to be at times, they are still our family.

 

We are early in Jesus’ ministry and he is worn down.  It seems that he needs a break—he needs to go home to be with his family where life will be calm and easy and peaceful.

 

You know the image of home and family.  Where everyone gets along and lovingly listens to each other with compassion and interest, where you sit around the table playing games, laughing and hugging and telling each other that you love them.  Where big delicious meals miraculously appear and the conversations are stimulating and enriching. Where everyone sleeps well and wakes refreshed and ready for another great day with the family.  You know those family get-togethers with lots of affirmation and confidence building that are so wonderful that you simply never want them to end. You know what I mean?  Yeah right!  Did any of you grow up in this family?  Me neither!

 

Most of us grew up in a family with a bunch of misfits trying our very best to live together.  The honest to goodness truth is that going home to family is rarely that peaceful, calm, wonderful image we think it is going to be.  But yet, there is something about family that still draws us in.

 

Family is a foundational concept in the Bible.  The Bible begins in Genesis, not with talk of nations and tribes…but families, Abraham and Sarah. The bible goes on from there telling of the growth of families.  And, sure, there are other great metaphors to describe the relationship between God and humankind. King and subjects.  Master and slaves.  But, it always comes back around to family.  Sometimes God’s faithful people are likened to the bride of the Bridegroom.  And our infidelities are then compared to adultery.  But, most of the time we’re God’s children. God’s daughters and sons who bring great joy as well as great disappointment. That is the reality of family.[1]

 

We like to think that Jesus held his family in the same regard as us, as the most important people in his life.  We like to think that when he came home his cousins and aunts and uncles would have run to see him, to see the local boy who has gone off and done good, but that is far from what happened.

 

Jesus comes home to his own people, his friends and his family, and they think he has gone crazy.  And when they bring his own mother and brothers to him, he doesn’t run and hug them instead he looks around at the crowd and says that they (The Crowd) “Here are my mothers and my brothers.”

 

Talk about family values.  How can Jesus be downplaying the one thing we hold so dear— our families?[2]

 

But if you think about it, Jesus’ life was not very good on families.  He called fishermen away from the family business to just abandon the boat and leave their aging parents.  He said things like, “I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.”  He told one person who said he wanted to follow only he needed to bury his father first “Let the dead bury the dead.  Follow me and let somebody else do the funeral.”  Whoa.  What happened to honor your father and your mother?  What happened to the family values that we think the Bible endorses?[3]

 

What happened is that for Jesus everything is secondary to his mission.  Nothing is more important than following him.  And following Jesus does not mean that we disregard our family.  Following Jesus does not mean we don’t love and care for and enjoy our parents and our children and our cousins.  Jesus is instead challenging us to expand our understanding of family.  Our close knit family is simply too small in Jesus’ world.  Jesus was constantly expanding the idea of family to include more.

 

So, before we see any of this as bad news, that Jesus is bashing his own family, we have to see the good news in it.

 

Remember Jesus ate and drank with sinners.  That is what got people so mad at Jesus.  He brought people into the fold that simply were not invited.  He brought people into his family that looked different, acted different, and ate differently, perhaps even believed a bit different.  The chief focus of Jesus’ mission was to find the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, to bring them all home.  Even as he was dying on the cross he invited a thief, a criminal, an outcast to join him and his family in paradise.  Right up until the end and beyond Jesus was forming a new family, a family where even misfits belong.

 

The family image is also a great metaphor for the church. Think back to the family reunion where all those aunts, uncles and cousins come together in a meal with lots of talking and storytelling and gossip.  You can almost see it now. Getting all of these misfits together and sharing in a meal and fellowship and storytelling can only be a family reunion because that is the only thing that would bring us all together.

 

And so here we are all the misfits gathered together to share a meal together.  Not just a meal but a feast.  A huge feast where the table is always expanding and there is always room for one more.  People will come from North and South and East and West.  They will come from rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat, people you like and people you don’t like, crazy uncle Bob will be there, along with sinful Aunt Debbie and the outcast cousin Steve and the annoying cousin Sally.  Everyone together and sharing a meal.  It won’t always be peaceful, because no family is always peaceful and we may not even agree on how the meal is served or what the meal means but we are here none the less.  And here with us is love and grace and mercy with a whole lot of forgiveness thrown in for good measure.

 

And Jesus will be there smiling and laughing and joyful because another lost sheep has come home and our understanding of family has just expanded even more.

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. Karoline Lewis, Family Matters

[2] The Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Why Jesus? Part 4: Jesus the Home Wrecker, October 24, 2010.

[3] The Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Why Jesus? Part 4: Jesus the Home Wrecker, October 24, 2010.

What’s love got to do with it?

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
John 15:9-17

15: 9 “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:9-17, NRSV)

Let us pray: Faithful God, make our hearts bold with love for one another. Pour out your Spirit upon all people, that we may live in your peace and walk in your ways. Amen.

 

Love is such a difficult word, emotion, sense to understand. I mean I love Monnie and I love my children, but I also love chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. I love sports and summer vacations so when Jesus talks about love and loving him it seems somehow to be different.

 

My mom told me she loved me and my dad often did so without actually using the words; my brothers and I did not say it to each other while we were growing up but we knew it and now we end each conversation and or visit with I love you. Growing up in the church, adults and others shared with me about their love of Jesus.  I really did not know what that was all about loving Jesus…how could I do that when I didn’t really understand love?

 

As a teenager I didn’t date a whole lot and I certainly didn’t have many girlfriends but when I did I was certain that she was the one and I was in love with her and it was going to last forever because that is what love means isn’t it?  My heart skipped a beat when I saw her, I was sure that this was love. Boy, did I have a lot to learn about girls, dating, attraction and love, but that is for another sermon. I never had those sort of feelings towards Jesus. Sure, I invited him into my heart and gave him my life and asked him to be my Lord and Savior but I did not have the same feelings towards him as I did my first crushes and girlfriends. And when you are a teenager, those first brushes with love and romance are not only intoxicating, all-consuming but they are also very confusing.

 

As Church goers we hear about Jesus and love all the time. One of the gifts my parents gave me was to raise me and my brothers in the faith where the truth of the gospel that God so loved the whole world and even you and me was taught. But love was not a word that was easily understood in the world that I grew up in not this kind of love. We believed in Jesus; we tried to live according to God’s Word; we learned the difference between right and wrong, we took great comfort and strength in the promises of Scripture and Jesus to us and for all the world, but love him? I am not sure I knew what that really meant.

 

You see, I don’t remember too many people saying out loud how much they loved their husbands, wives, significant others, their parents or even their children. It seems that that kind of love was far too personal, much too intimate to be talked about in public. Today maybe a bit different with social media where you can tell the whole wide world just how much you love him or her or pizza or the Reds or anything for that matter.

 

So, I began to wonder why people didn’t have such emotions and feelings for Jesus like we do for our boyfriends, wives, or children.  Did I miss something because I didn’t feel all tingly or obsessed about Jesus?  Could it be that I was taking Jesus for granted?

 

Sure I remember being taught that there are three different types of love in the New Testament. The first is agape, which is a verb. It is the highest of the three types of love in the Bible. Jesus showed this kind of selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love to all humanity. The second type of love is Phileo, which is also a verb. It is the friendship kind of love and affection for others. The final type is Eros, which is a noun. It refers to sexual, erotic love or desire. Obviously, Jesus is talking about a different kind of love than the hot and bothered teenage kind of love but what is he talking about.

 

In the scripture passage we read; Jesus is sharing his last meal with his disciples in the upper room. They are worried.  They are worried about being left behind. So, Jesus takes this last opportunity to prepare them for his departure. He tries to calm their fears and ease their anxieties by telling them how to carry on, to live in his absence so he says to them “if you love me, keep my commandments…The love he is talking about here is not a sentimental passion, or a romantic infatuation or obsession, or even an attraction or lust. The love Jesus is talking about is behavior, it is an action not a noun.  Jesus is telling his disciples not simply to say the word but to live it out. Don’t just talk about love, show me love! It is not about feelings, it is behavior, and it is defined by what we do, more than what we say!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

 

Think about what this means, how in the world do we “show” Jesus we love him?

  1. When we love our neighbor
  2. When we show compassion
  3. When we do justice, love kindness, show mercy and walk humbly with God…

 

In my pervious church there was a guy named Clint. He had grown up in the church and he was there every time the church doors were open. In fact, he had his own key so he was there even when the doors weren’t open. He was known to sit in a chair next to the secretary’s desk for hours on end, he also walked down the center aisle with the family at a funeral procession when he wasn’t even a member of the family.

 

He was a bit off. He was an alcoholic. His life was in shambles. He was a good hearted person but he was very hard to love.  It was hard to love him because he was difficult, he often did not bathe, he was not appropriate…he was tough but one day a group of the men in the church showed they loved him.

They went to his apartment and found him dirty, sick and very much alone. They cleaned out all of the liquor bottles, empty beer cans and trash in his filthy living space. They cleaned out the shower and then gave him one. The scrubbed him head to toe and then they took him to the doctor for a check-up. The next day they went with him and checked him into an alcohol rehab center. I know that they never said the words, “Clint, we love you but they certainly showed him just how much they loved him.”

 

I read in the Enquirer this week the tragic story of the young man, Travis Livers-Gowdy, the Cooper High School student who was tragically killed in a car accident last week in Northern Kentucky. A classmate told a story about him. She was new to the school and she was often teased and bullied. She described the first day that Travis Livers-Gowdy came and sat next to her at lunch. “Last year, I was the girl no one liked. I was sitting by myself at lunch every day,” “This popular upper-classman (Livers-Gowdy) came and sat next to me, and he sat there with me every day… To know that I was a nobody. For him to make me know that it (wasn’t) OK to be bullied because someone like him who was known and popular and loved could help someone like me.”[1] He kept doing it every day.

I don’t imagine Travis Livers-Gowdy ever uttered the words, “I love you,” to her but he showed it. Not romantic love, not ever-lasting love, but the deep and abiding love for another child of God.

 

I don’t know if Travis was a Christian or not but he sure seems like it not because of anything he ever said but by his love.  Jesus asks, “Do you love me? Then he commands us to love one another as he first loved us. This is the call and command of the Risen Christ to all of us, so let us all show him. Not merely by our words but more so by our actions.

 

Let us pray:

[1] Henry Molski and Patrick Brennan, pbrennan@enquirer.com, School mourns loss of 18-year-old crash victim May 8, 2015 Check out this story on cincinnati.com: http://cin.ci/1Rhahm0

 

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
1 John 3:16–24
John 10:11–18

 

10:11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:11–18, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Shepherd of all, by laying down your life for your flock you reveal your love for all. Lead us from the place of death to the place of abundant life, that guided by your care for us, we may offer our lives in love for you and our neighbors. Amen.

 

I have a good friend who is a pastor of a Presbyterian Church in small town in Middle Tennessee.  He grew up on a farm.  What makes his story interesting is not that he grew up on a farm but that his father was a shepherd.  On the farm they grew crops, they had a few cattle but mostly they raised sheep.  My friend tells stories all the time about his life growing up on his family’s farm but he doesn’t talk very much about his father being a shepherd.  He loves to talk about the sheep, how needy they are, how stupid they are and how much work they are. But I have only heard him talk about shepherds once.

 

He says that he can’t think of a single good reason for anyone to ever be around sheep. He says, Shepherds have a lot of bad days—bad weeks, months, even years. Odds are, Shepherds can have more bad days with sheep than good ones. At least it would be close, he says.

 

He states, if your sheep don’t tie you down, sheep at least tie you to them. There is rarely a moment a Shepherd isn’t aware of what is going on with the flock and each member of it.

 

Sheep get sick very easily — and mysteriously.  Sheep don’t like other animals like dogs or horses. Foxes, Coyotes, even buzzards, are predators of sheep.

 

Sheep are extremely susceptible to parasites, especially intestinal worms. They also can pick up foot rot in the blink of an eye.

 

Sheep are also prone to death during lambing, both mother ewe and lamb. They also have a mysterious disease called lambing paralysis that is as fatal as it is mysterious. There is a whole host of diseases that affect sheep. That is why veterinarians are rarely much help. One would have to specialize in sheep—and who would do that, if just having sheep is so much trouble.

 

My friend tells that he and his father sawed off a lot of horns that were in danger of growing into a sheep’s eye or head.

 

He told of many bad times with sheep but one in particular stands out.  There was a time when virtually every sheep in his father’s flock developed a strange eye problem, and they treated them with medicine from the local vet, the whole flock went completely blind.

 

My friend says that as a Shepherd you’re up and down with sheep all night long.  You sleep with your ears awake as you can keep them.   On top of that, even at their best, a sheep’s life is less than 10 years, probably a lot less.   It’s a lot of work for not much return, or fun or satisfaction.   And when you get right down to it, there is no money in sheep either.   Wool or meat, either way.  And he adds, you can’t even give sheep rides, either.

 

So, why would anyone want sheep? Apparently, people would come by the farm to ask about sheep.  They are so cute and soft and they look they would make a great pet. Not so much.

 

My friend’s father met with every person who came by the farm and he even had a little speech to people who thought they would like to get a few sheep the way someone gets a few chickens or a few cows or a few pear trees. My friend realized that there were two levels to his father’s speech.

 

The first level of his father’s speech was looking out for the poor misguided souls who wanted to try their hand at becoming a shepherd so his father was always up front and honest about the difficulties of being a shepherd recalling the many times he was called to “come and get these things” within a few weeks—or days. Even hours.

 

The deeper and more profound level his father was looking out for the sheep themselves. He might hate to see someone taken in by the cute and cuddly look of the sheep and end up having all of those problems.  But mostly, he didn’t want to put his sheep – or any other sheep – in the hands of a bad shepherd because as you can tell being a good shepherd is not accidental. It’s true that it is not rocket science. It’s probably a lot more frustrating than that.

 

So, hearing his story of growing up on a farm with a shepherd as a father it is not hard to imagine why Jesus’ says that the hired hand ran off when he saw the wolf coming.  We don’t know if the hired hand ran off because of the wolf or of being left with all of those sheep.  Maybe the wolf offered the perfect opportunity to leave all his troubles behind.

 

But why then in the world would Jesus ever compare himself to a shepherd? Not only that he calls himself the Good Shepherd. The Good rancher, maybe. The Good manager?   I can see that. But the Good Shepherd?  It is right up there with the Good Dairy-farmer, or the Good ER doctor.

 

So, why would Jesus ever want to take all of us?

 

There are days, as we are all so well aware, when we can barely stand ourselves.  There are days we can barely stand some of the people closest to us. There are days when we can barely stand people in our own families.  There are times it “flies all over us” just to see someone’s face or to hear their voice.  There are people we never want to see or hear ever again.

 

Yet, Jesus takes on the role of being the Good Shepherd.  It makes no sense. Why anyone would lay his or her life down for a bunch or sheep?  Or for a group of people?  Or for us?

 

Just like my friend’s story about his father the Shepherd.  It’s not the sheep.  And it’s not the people.  It’s the heart of the shepherd.

 

What is in the heart of a shepherd that causes one, not simply to put up with sheep but to give one’s heart and one’s life to them?  What is in the heart of the Good Shepherd that causes him to lay down his life for us?

 

Jesus says, “I know my sheep…”

 

Apparently, if we were to look at a flock of sheep, we would probably see a sea of identical faces.  But not so with a good shepherd.  My friend said that if you were to walk out in the field with his father, you could point to any sheep in the flock and he could tell you the number, their mother and father and probably what day they were born.

 

It was simply because his father knew his sheep—and he knew they counted on him.  Occasionally his father actually managed to make some money on sheep, enough to break even at least.  But the real reason he hung in there with his sheep for 60 plus years was because he came to love them.  He knew them, and he knew that they depended on him.  Sheep live and die by the trust they place in their shepherd— and the quality of their shepherd.

 

Why Jesus should love us in all of our needs and all of our heartaches, I can’t possible explain. But the Good News is that Jesus takes it upon himself to be the Good Shepherd to us all. The truth that makes that even better “Good News” is that he is the only one who can be.  Jesus is willing and able to do what we all need but what none of us can do: he can love us and guide our lives into life that leads into eternal life.  He can lead us to be a flock bound together by love and following in the ways of love, compassion and justice.  We can really live – because the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for us so that we might live the life for which we were created.

 

I can’t tell you why shepherds are willing to be with their sheep.  I certainly can’t tell you why God the creator of the universe is willing to take on the likes of us human beings.  But I can tell you it is the best Good News any sheep can ever hear that they are in the hands of the Good Shepherd.  There is One who loves us, and always will.

 

Let us pray:

An Idle Tale or Everlasting Truth?

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18

 

20:1“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Living God, on the first day of the week you brought to birth a new creation through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fill us with the hope and joy of new beginnings, so that we may share the good news of your liberating, life-giving power with all the world. Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

If I went around the sanctuary and asked some of you to tell the story of Easter we all might tell it a little differently.  Some of us would tell of Mary Magdalene and others of the disciples running back and forth.  Some of us might remark of how the stone had been rolled away or that the gardener appeared and called Mary’s name.  We would all have our way of telling the Easter story.

 

The Gospel writers did as well.  There are basically four different accounts of the resurrection, all with their own nuances and details and focus.  Matthew says there was an earthquake.  Mark ends so abruptly that we have to fill in the details and provide our own ending.  Luke has a group of women that see the angels in dazzling clothes.  John has the gardener who ends up being Jesus.  Some accounts have Mary alone, some with other women.  Some have one angel, some two. It gets a bit confusing with all the discrepancies.

 

But if you think about it, isn’t that confusion all part of the Easter story, all part of our faith.  There are lots of differences, there is skepticism, there is doubt, and there is faith.

 

Then it hit me that is how belief or faith is.  Sometimes our belief or our faith is so strong that our hearts are beating furiously and we can almost see the hand of God.  Other times our belief or our faith is small and faint and we must rely on others to do the believing for us.  Sometimes we run to the tomb and are certain that Jesus is not there.  Other times we meander slowly there and aren’t so sure all this resurrection stuff is not some fairy tale.  Sometimes we shout loudly “I believe”.  Other times we whisper quietly, “I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.”

 

So, with all those mixed up feelings and thoughts and wonderings, we come to worship this Easter Sunday.  We come longing for this resurrection story to be true, to be far more than a fairy tale.  We come wanting to believe, wanting to be transformed, wanting for this Easter to mean something, to change our lives, to bring joy and hope and faith to the forefront of our living.

 

In many ways we are just like Mary on that first Easter morning.  Mary knew all about death, she knew that death was the end.  She knew that Jesus was gone and life would never be the same.  With his death on the cross, her hope died too.  Mary had to face reality and reality told her:

Death is final

Some situations are truly hopeless

And now her hope is gone.

 

Likewise, with us there is all kind of evidence that we are wrong to believe in the Resurrection:  There are school shootings and drunk drivers killing innocent people, there is war and more war, there are divorces and depression and hopelessness.  There is all the evidence in the world that death is final, that some situations are hopeless and that we are all alone.

 

We all know that death is never pretty. But what we learn on this Resurrection morning, what we learn from traveling to the empty tomb is that Easter is not about death – it is about life. Yes, Jesus died but today he is risen and that changed everything.

 

We so easily use the statement, “This changes everything,” to describe so many events in our lives. Things that change us like: Marriage changes things in our lives. Having children — or not having children — changes things in our lives.  Divorce changes things. Cancer changes things. The death of loved ones changes things. September 11th, 2001 changed things. However, none of these really changes everything for all of us. There is really only one thing that truly changes everything. It is the reason that we have gathered here today… Resurrection.

 

We stake our lives on the resurrection and that is enough to send us out into the world to live each days with hope, a hope that we don’t completely understand, but a hope that we can trust, that we know that God is working, that life even comes out of death.

 

William Slone Coffin, chaplain, social activist, preacher and prophet died several years ago.  He wrote a book before his death entitled “Credo” and the last chapter is “The End of Life.”  Reflecting on his own impending death he wrote:

“As Job said, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  That does not mean that God is responsible for every death.  What that means is that before every birth and after every death there is still God.  The abyss of God’s love is deeper that the abyss of death.  Paul insists that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Even if we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we know who is beyond the grave.”  (Credo, p.167-171)

 

We all know the reality of this world.  Reality of pain and death and grief.  But Easter, the empty tomb, and the Risen Lord there is another reality.  There is reality that says death is not the final word.

 

That is the great mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and a new reality that says you just never know what may happen or what the future may hold.

We are people of life.

We are people of faith.

We are people of hope.

We are people of resurrection.

 

It is enough to send us out from here to tell others that He is risen.  He is risen indeed. That is the truth of Easter.

 

Thank be to God for it.

Amen.

 

Let us pray:

 

The Most Extraordinary Request

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
John 12:20-33

 

12:20 “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—”Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” (John 12:20-33, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of suffering and glory, in Jesus Christ you reveal the way of life through the path of obedience. Inscribe your law in our hearts, that in life we may not stray from you, but may be your people. Amen.

 

We wish to see Jesus.

Pretty basic.

Pretty simple.

Sir, we wish to see Jesus.

 

In many ways that is the basis of why we come to church, it is what we do and who we are. In the modern age where we are all about goals and mission statements.  Having this request as a goal just might be the best we could do. We wish to see Jesus.

Isn’t that why we come to church?

Come and See…see what?

See Jesus.

 

Some Greeks come up to the disciples and request to see Jesus.

What does that mean?

Well, Jesus tells us.

 

Here we are in the fifth week of Lent.  One more Sunday, Palm Sunday, before we celebrate Easter and the resurrection.  We have this pivotal story in Jesus life as described in the Gospel of John.  The entire Gospel of John has been pointing to this climatic moment.  Three times already in the Gospel of John Jesus says “My hour has not yet come.”  He said it in chapter 2 before he turned water into wine when his mother suggests that he do something before the wine runs out.  Jesus turns to her and says, “My hour has not yet come.”  Then he says it twice in chapter 7 to his brothers and then to the authorities who were trying to arrest him.  “My hour has not yet come.”

 

Now, suddenly these Greeks come and ask to see him and he responds “O.k. now is the time.  My hour has come. It is time for me to die.” I don’t really know why now, why is this the hour for Jesus?  I can imagine a few things.  He recently raised Lazarus from the dead, a miracle that angered and shocked the authorities.  The authorities realized that with miracles like this, raising someone from the dead, Jesus would get too popular, would challenge their power and authority.  Scripture goes so far to tell us, “From that day on they planned to put Jesus to death.”  So Jesus surely knew how he had angered them and knew that his time was coming.

 

And when the Greeks come and wish to see him, it only reinforces that their fears are coming to fruition.  These Greeks represent the broader world and indicate that Jesus’ ministry was starting to take off, his popularity is growing.  In a strange convergence, Jesus’ hour has come because both his supporters and his opposition wanting to see him meant that more and more people were following him.  His popularity and his hatred only leads to more eyes on him so his hour has come. Jesus knows that everything is not as it seems and that his followers don’t really understand what it means to follow him.

 

It is still that way today.  Garry Wills wrote a book in 2007 entitled “What Jesus Meant” which talks about the vast difference between the popular Jesus that the world thinks about and the Jesus of the Bible.  Wills says about the Jesus of the Bible.

 

“He preferred the company of the lonely and despised. . . . He crossed lines of ritual impurity to deal with the unclean, the lepers, the possessed, the insane, the prostitutes and adulterers, and collaborators. . . . He was called a bastard. . . . He had a lower-class upbringing . . . chose his followers from the lower class. . . . Jesus not only favored the homeless, he was himself homeless. . . . He was in constant danger of being arrested and assassinated. . . was called an agent of the devil . . . consorter with loose women, a glutton and a drunkard. . . . The puzzled disciples trotted behind, trying to make sense of what seemed to them inexplicable, squabbling among themselves about what he was up to. It would never have occurred to them to wear a WWJD bracelet.” (“Foreword: Christ Not a Christian”)

 

Jesus challenged everybody and everything in his life.  He even challenged his own religion, and every step he took in his life was a step closer to the cross.  Instead of teaching about how to get ahead in life and how to have a lot of fans, he said things like, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”  Instead of teaching how to be successful, he said things like, “Those who love their life, lose it.”  And then he laid down his life, even though he didn’t have to.  (Idea from John Buchanan sermon, 4-2-06)  He could have gotten out of it- he was the son of God after all.  But he knew what he came for and he was willing to suffer for it.

 

He was willing to die, because he knew as he told us that “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”  People will look up at the cross and see why I came.

 

The message and meaning of the cross is what Jesus told us that the way to gain your life, the way to live your life fully, is to give it away, in love, for his sake.  The message of the cross is the message of the Christian life, which is always about giving.  The Christian life is not so much about conquering, converting, and growing as it is about giving, serving, and loving. (John Buchanan, 4-2-06)

 

Why did Jesus have to die?  To show us how to live.  Yes, he died to save us, so that we might have eternal life.  But he also died so that we might live, so that we might have abundant life.  And how do we do that?  We lose our life, when we give it away for others.

 

I saw something in this text this week that I have never noticed before.  When Jesus says that unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it is just a single grain, what he is basically saying is that unless a grain dies for others it ends up alone.  I take that to mean that unless you live your life for others you will end up alone, just you and your little life.  To be alone, really alone, uninvolved, isolated, is really to bear no fruit.  There is nothing to bear, no fruit, no productivity.  Loving our life so much in this world, loving ourselves more than others, not giving and caring and loving leads to a fate worse than death.  It leads to a life of loneliness, disconnection and unfruitfulness.

 

Jesus died, because he refused to compromise, he refused to give in to the ways of power and authority, he refused to give up what he knew was the way to life.  Jesus died because he believed that the way to real life, the way to eternal life, is to live for others.  He died to show us that in living for others we become who God created us to be.

 

He died to show us that there is nothing in all of life or death to be afraid of, for when he died and was lifted up he drew all people to himself.

 

Sir we wish to see Jesus. And what does seeing Jesus mean? It means we see the cross. It means you we see how to live and how to die— for others.

 

Let us pray:

 

Jesus Appreciated

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:2-9, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Holy God, you have revealed the glory of your love in Jesus Christ, and have given us a share in your Spirit. May we who listen to Christ follow faithfully, and, in the dark places where you send us, reveal the light of your gospel, for this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

Throughout the Bible we catch glimpses of the holy. Brief moments that are difficult to understand or to explain. Most of the time they just have to be taken on faith. Today’s story from the Gospel of Mark is one of those moments. Jesus is on the top of a mountain with his disciples Peter and James and John when all of the sudden as Mark tells us that his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. The disciples just stood in awe as right there in front of them he is changed – transfigured – right before their eyes.  What do you do with a moment like this?

 

It is a great temptation to try to explain what happened on that mountain top and what it means.  It would be something if by the time we all left the service today we fully understood what happened on that mountain top so long ago. Trying to make sense of the Transfiguration is missing the point. How would explaining a brilliantly glowing holy figure going to make sense anyway.

 

I believe that this is a glimpse of the holy and we are not supposed to figure it out or explain it away. Instead we are to appreciate it.

 

This glimpse of the holy is another way in which God is revealing God’s self to the world. It is another example of God coming among humanity.  God coming into the lives of the disciples, God coming into their vulnerabilities, God coming into their fears. Their response was a sense of awe. Remember it was God who said in the book of Genesis, “Let there be light and light shone forth out of darkness.” It is this same God, who created the world, beautiful and beyond our imagining, who was shone forth on that mountain top and it is the same God who shines light into our lives in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

That is precisely what happened on the mountain top. The disciples were stressed. They were exhausted. They were encountering conflict everywhere they turned. So they go with Jesus to the mountain top to get away, and they experience the awesome presence and power of God. “This is my beloved.”

 

Just like Peter and James and John, we should be drawn to him, as if we were moths drawn to a light.  Because isn’t that what we all want?

  • Don’t we all want some sort of glimpse of the holy?
  • Wouldn’t it be great to experience transfiguration in your life?
  • An encounter with God – some sense that we are not alone, that there is something more than what we can see and touch?

A sense of the transcendent, the mystic, and the holy, something outside of ourselves that will bring about a sense of awe and wonder in our own lives. Not in a narcissistic way. But because we have a deep human need for transformation, change, conversion.

 

So, Peter does just that as he tries save his experience on the mountain top.  He wants to capture the feeling.

 

But this story is not just about Jesus’ revelation of his glory because as soon as Peter tries to capture it God speaks and it is time to move on.

The transfiguration of Jesus is a turning point, it is a transition from seeing Jesus as human to seeing him divine. It’s not just about securing the Jesus of the future or holding on to the Jesus of the past but points to the real human struggle with change, with transformation.

 

Transformation is hard.  Change is hard.  It’s easier to stay the same. Stay the course. Remain in place. Convince ourselves that what we have always done is satisfactory and sufficient, telling ourselves that change is too hard.

 

So we can just sit. And wait. For what? The right time? The right place? All of our questions answered? Everything figured out? All of our proverbial ducks in a row? This is why the transfiguration matters. Because it just happens. No warning. No preparation. It just shows up. There is no right time. It just happens. No amount of planning can predict the right kind of change. No amount of preparation can prepare you for an altered reality or an altered perspective. No amount of strategizing can make you ready for a transfiguration to be truly changed by Jesus.

 

Peter realizes that if Jesus changes, then he will be changed as well. He thinks that if he stays there on the mountain it will simple go away or will just pass by.  Peter can come out of his tent and all will still be the same. Jesus will be the same. James and John will still be the same.  But God speaks and it is time to move on because God does not call him to stay the same. God does not call us to stay the same. Instead God transforms us into the people God created us to be.

 

So, I invite you this Lenten season to keep your eyes open and keep your hearts ready because you just never know when the holy will break into your life and transform you.

 

Let us pray:

I Will, With God’s Help

Deuteronomy 18:15–20
Psalm 111
Mark 1:21–28

 

1:21“They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21–28, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of all wisdom and authority, you sent Jesus Christ to save us. Heal us, cleanse us, deliver us, and cast out the evil within us so that we may know your Word and heed your new teaching; through Christ, your Holy One. Amen.

 

Today is a big day. Sure it is super bowl Sunday when all the world will watch to see if the Patriots will try to deflate the Seahawks. It is also Volunteer Sermon Sunday and it is the day we ordain, install and commission our newly elected Vestry Session members. It is a big day.

 

It was also a big day on that Sabbath Day so long ago when Jesus entered the Synagogue and he taught. The Gospel of Mark tells us that the congregation was astounded at his teaching. Just like you are every week when Heather and I preach! When all of the sudden the scene shifts to a man described as being filled with an unclean spirit, or what we would called possessed.  A fight of spiritual proportions breaks out. Notice that it does not last very long and Jesus is clearly victorious. So, why is this the scripture and sermon for today?  A big day in the life of our church?

 

I find it very interesting that this confrontation with a possessed man is the first act of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of Mark. The other gospels present a very different beginning for Jesus.  In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a teacher and as the fulfillment of the law. In the Gospel of John, Jesus miracles usher in his ministry as he creates unexpected and unimaginable abundance. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is portrayed as the liberator, the one who sets the captives free, he heals the sick, and he proclaims good news to the poor and the Lord’s favor to all. But the Gospel of Mark ushers in Jesus ministry with a fight as he confronts and casts out the unclean spirit.

 

This confrontation is a signal that Jesus has come to clash with all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God wants for all of us.

 

That is the underlying message I take from this story. God does not want these things to possess us. Things that are real and difficult and life threatening and soul robbing and mood altering. Things that are subtle but no less destructive and spiritually deadly. Things like – anger, fear, workaholism, affluenza, substance abuse…. Things that possess us

 

Please don’t in any way hear me making light of these struggles because I deal with them too and I know that they are strong and powerful and can keep me from being fully that child of God I was created to be. I am not naive to believe or to suggest that with just the right prayer or well worded liturgy or healing touch that any of this things that can possesses us will magically vanish.

 

I believe that Mark is presenting Jesus as the one who is uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to call attention to these possessive powers and the agent to disempower them. Jesus is the one to do it and as Mark shows he is not passive but instead he is intrusive.  He breaks down old boundaries and he sets free people from the powers that afflict us. He is the one to share the promise that God does not want these things for us, the church, or the whole of creation.

 

This story describes God as the God of the broken, and to be a member of Jesus’ disciples then or now is the ability to realize our deep need for and trust that Jesus has come to meet it.

 

But it is not a once and done kind of thing.  Jesus doesn’t conquer that one demon in us and leave us alone. Because you know what? That demon might rear its ugly head or something else will take its place. It’s a lifelong process of Jesus coming in and reminding us over and over and over that Jesus does not want these things to possess us. And there is another piece of this too. Once we realize who Jesus is and what he’s about we are compelled, called, commissioned to use our gifts and talents to help others in their life journeys…

 

So as we commit ourselves to something this Volunteer pledge season pay attention to where God might be needing you to serve, give your time, your talents, your energy, your imagination, your love and your prayers.

 

Later in the service we will ordain, install and commission our members of Vestry Session, the leaders whom you elected to serve and to lead us. Heather and I will ask them some questions, (you can read them they are an insert in your bulletin). Some of the questions they can answer, yes or no, but others are impossible for any human being to achieve. So, they will have to answer, “I will with God’s help.”

 

And so as you think of those places of brokenness or disappointment or fear in your lives, this is a good answer as you face those particular challenges “I will with God’s help.” This story reminds us that God does not stay away from us because we face these challenges or deal with shortcomings. No, instead, God draws nearest to us precisely in these moments as we face them and deal with them. God is still at work casting out the unclean spirits of the world, and God is healing of our possessions so that we can join our Lord and get to work.

 

Let us pray: We praise and worship you, O Gracious God. You have the power to save us, free us and call us to yourself. Amen.