May 26, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you think of heaven what’s the very first thing you think of?
My guess is that we don’t often think about heaven directly – in terms of what it will be like. Or maybe when we think of it it’s a big pool of vague ideas maybe not connected to scripture at all. Or perhaps pondering heaven raises a plethora of questions that stop us in our tracks.
Our reading from the book of Revelation today helps us to understand some characteristics of heaven. This is a book Russ described last Sunday as themed on the restoration of all things.
It was written toward the end of the 1st century. Maybe 50 to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian church in that time was slowly finding its identity – it was not in the synagogue and not part of the Roman empire – in fact, horrifying persecution had already begun.
The gospel of John – which we also heard from today, thought of as the last of the four gospels written, was written before Revelation – maybe 10-20 years – and in our reading today we hear a bit of the development of the church – it’s literally looking for a home and existing in gatherings in homes. It was not fitting in a tidy way between the synagogue and the empire. No wonder John focused on these comments by Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Home. Words of security in the fits and starts of place while the Christian faith is developing in its self-expression.
As John writes Revelation he is addressing the Christian church then – and speaking of the way’s life will get harder before it gets easier as the Roman empire amps up on persecution. But he’s also addressing us – it’s a multifaceted book. It was written to encourage and inform its present audience, but also written to encourage and inform future generations.
In today’s reading we are hearing a description of the new Jerusalem – and within that, aspects of what heaven will be like.
We can be tempted to read it all quite literally. But it’s steeped in the limitations of words. John is likely ‘seeing’ something God has shown him – he self describes being caught up into something - and is reaching for words to describe it. In the opening chapter of the book he writes: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a voice behind me like a loud trumpet” [even in that phrase we see him searching for ways to describe – ‘like a loud trumpet’] the voice was “saying, ‘Write in a book what you see.’” (Rev. 1:10). We may speculate that he is seeing things that are not of this world, so there is difficulty finding words to describe something no one has seen before.
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday. Here we are…we’ve been journeying through Holy Week these past few days, and tonight, we come to the institution of the Lord’s supper – what we practice as communion each week. We have a narrative that is packed with stuff…and informed by content from the other gospels.
As we’ve been at other times during Lent, we are again around a table. A meal is being shared…
We glean from the other gospels there’s been a bit of tension among the 12. It seems they’ve been arguing about who is the greatest among themselves. We even hear of James and John’s mother kneeling before Jesus and asking for a ‘favor’: could her sons sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in the kingdom…Jesus is about to save the world, and, as we would be in their shoes, they are completely self-absorbed…
On top of this dynamic, there’s Judas at the table…the betrayer who’s about to set the plan in motion.
And most importantly, Jesus is about to suffer and die. It’s his last time with the 12 before this happens. He knows this, we heard him say: “I am with you only a little longer…” – and it fuels his choice of words and actions. Can you imagine? Having dinner with folks and knowing it’s your last time to say what is important before you die?
I am sure the vibe around this table was very heavy.
The punch line comes at the end of our passage:
“I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you,” Jesus says. And -
“I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
An example. Love.
At this meal Jesus, through action, proclaims “This is who I am, and this is how I live.”
Hear again from our gospel reading: “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God, and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.”
This answers central identity questions - which are:
Who am I?
April 07, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As in the Last Supper narrative on Maundy Thursday here, today, in our gospel reading, we have a gathering around a table for a meal. At the gathering are those who have a great devotion to Jesus as well as a soon to be betrayer of Jesus. We also have feet being attended to…not your typical dinners for 8.
Here Jesus is at the home of Lazarus…this is a familiar family to us from the previous couple of chapters in John’s gospel – siblings on quite a ride in their faith and relationship with Jesus.
Lazarus is the one for whom Jesus wept and who was raised from the dead after being dead for four days.
Martha is the one who gave a confession of faith before her brother’s resurrection: “Yes Lord,” she says, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
And Mary – whom we have seen at another gathering for dinner being affirmed for sitting at Jesus’ feet.
In our narrative, the next day – for us next Sunday – Jesus will enter Jerusalem; what’s become for us Palm Sunday.
Jesus has been talking about his death and folks are not really grasping it…in fact, the disciples do not think it is a good way to do things – remember Peter’s rebuke of Jesus – “God forbid it, Lord, this must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
Here we have Mary and she gets it. She’s is comprehending what others could not and is acting out of her understanding – out of love, gratitude, and sacrifice.
In this narrative, Judas criticizes her action. With a tone that almost seems casual, John asserts Judas is a thief who regularly stole from their common purse. Character is obvious and John does not minimize or apologize for his assessment of Judas.
This narrative may be read as a juxtaposition of Mary and Judas – one of following Jesus at great cost, and one of following Jesus for personal gain. It is there but let me also assert a metaphorical reading of the narrative: Theological professor George Stroup, in reflection on this passage, asserts: “Judas plays just as important a role in John’s story of Jesus’ death as does Mary…The Christian disciple [you and I] is neither Mary nor Judas but a paradoxical combination of both.”*
February 17, 2019
Our readings today swing on concepts of contrast that feel heavy and pretty black and white.
Our Jeremiah reading opens with strong language: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength...”
January 13, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we will witness infant baptism. Today, we also hear of baptism in our gospel reading – the narrative of the baptism of Christ.
Jesus, an image of the invisible God, come to us – Incarnation – taking off some of God’s self and putting on some of humanities self – fully human, fully God; has become one of us.
Jesus saves us and shows us the way – how to live.
Here. Now. In our narrative this morning Jesus is showing us the need for baptism.
Scripturally Jesus models two things for us that are what we call “sacraments” – though there may be a wider lens of considering sacrament. In the New Testament, it is Holy Communion and Baptism.
In Greek, the word for baptism has a more descriptive meaning than English conveys that helps us understand the significance of what is taking place. The verb “bapto” means to “dip in or under, to dye” – like dying a garment…when you dip in the cloth the garment changes completely into something different: it’s evident; it shows. The word “baptizmo” appears in different constructions throughout the New Testament: it may vary a bit but includes meaning “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into…” (Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 410).
We hear both the power and force of baptism. And perhaps the danger.
In the back of our Book of Common Prayer – which you have in your pews – there is a wonderful section called “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism.” The word Catechism tells us the format of this outline – it is a summary in question and answer structure. How great is that?
On page 857 we have the questions: what are the sacraments? And what is baptism?
A sacrament is defined as an “outward visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” We spoke recently of grace – grace is unmerited favor. Something we neither deserve nor earn…it just is…God’s extravagant posture toward us: full of grace.
A sacrament is something outward that is a means of grace. A vehicle of grace…of God’s extravagance…a special way God provides connection to God…revelation of God.
Bread. Wine. Water.
Normal and familiar things with cultural associations that God uses to show us God, to connect us to God.
December 02, 2018
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Truly. Happy New Year. In our Episcopal liturgical calendar, it’s the first day of a whole new year. And in that calendar, we begin the year with Advent. Advent means “coming” and we are starting a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. That’s why we lit the candle.
What’s so fun about our liturgical calendar, is that it’s different from regular time – our contemporary Gregorian calendar. This kind of thing serves us. Helps us remember whose we are. where we are. where we are going. We can be tethered to our spirituality as we attach ourselves to our liturgical calendar…on a different trajectory than the culture around us. It may serve as a powerful reminder.
And what do calendars do? Inform us of coming events or signal us to remember past events.
Though our calendars will not hit Christmas Day for 23 more days, in our stores and neighborhoods, Christmas has come…so much for effective calendar keeping.
However, we can effectually practice the season of Advent over these next four weeks – it can both inform us and signal us to remember.
We have additional help outside of the calendar as we practice Advent. We function in the midst of much sign and symbol in our Episcopal tradition – calendars, colors, candles, hymns, and music of seasons. We tend to involve many senses as we approach God. Sight. Smell. Touch. Sound. The more senses involved, the more we are involved. One sense is sight and has to do with color.
We’ve just come off what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time,” though there is nothing ordinary about it. It’s a season of growth after Pentecost. The color that expresses it is green – which kinda makes sense as it expresses growth. To remind us, this color was on the altar and lectern and podium, and we, as clergy, wore it. But now, new year, new season, new color – blue, or purple. Again, using our senses to remind us of reality. In our liturgical practice blue signals expectation and preparation.
And speaking of senses – the Advent wreath also helps us – light and color.
The flavors of waiting are illustrated in the Advent wreath: preparation, joy, and celebration. These are shown in the candle colors: dark blue/purple, rose, and white.
In simplicity, as an additional candle is lit each week it symbolizes growing anticipation for Christ’s coming. Increasing light. Advent is a time of journey from darkness to light.
The season of Advent is, on the whole, a season of waiting with some different flavors to it – Advent is both simple and complex.
Apart from colors and calendar and symbols we see from our readings today, that this waiting is not linear – we hear about the promise to be fulfilled in Jeremiah and in Luke, Christ’s return. It’s about looking back – Christ coming to us as a baby; looking forward – Christ returning, and looking around – Christ confronting us…confront is kind of a strong word – perhaps bringing us up short is more what I mean, getting our attention in our now…our daily lives.
Advent. Looking back, looking forward, and looking around while journeying from darkness to light. In the midst of this, it is also both personal and corporate.
October 14, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Our readings today may confuse us if we’re not careful.
We hear three distinct voices in our readings. They communicate sadness, desire, need, and perhaps helplessness.
All of these may fall under the broad umbrella of suffering.
We hear Job’s and his angst about God: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him…”
In our gospel reading, we hear the question posed: “what must I do to be saved?” – Jesus walks thru some commandments in answer…the person – who’s not identified in this gospel is referred to as the ‘rich young ruler’ in the other gospel narratives – he says, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” --- this response by him in our narrative seems to show assurance is not being experienced. No sense that this is enough or “working.”
We’re seeing individual perceptions of reality.
Perception is a funny thing. It has to do with awareness and understanding – especially through the senses. We all have perceptions of things – situations, people, ourselves, God. Our perceptions are how we interpret and orient ourselves in our daily lives. Our perceptions are our reality…what we tend to forget is that our perceptions can be on point or they can be really wrong…but they tend to feel right because they’re ours.
Perception is the reality to each of us. Though it is not always the same reality.
In Job, his perception is that God is not there.
In contrast, the gospel reading shows an angst that we all, in ways, can dial into. This person is perceiving his obedience as not paying off or doing the trick…this person is not satisfied.
We also catch a glimpse of perception in our psalm appointed for the day. This is a familiar Psalm of lament by one who feels utterly abandoned by God. The psalmist cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
September 02, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Christian life is a supernatural life. When someone is a Christian, we see an observable difference in their life. It shows up. Scripture tells us that we are miraculously, though we may not feel it, new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. Our Epistle today gives us a tangible example and exhortation of how our Christian life is different and observable…or not…
In this reading today, we hear about our actions, handling our emotions, and the importance of the state of our hearts.
“Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
And a great word picture: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away immediately forget what they were like.”
The Christian life is one of response and action to all that God has done for us. As we relate to God and one another, simply put – Love is something you do.
But this is not an expectation to live up to from God…we are not saved by any works we do and cannot make God think any more of us than God already does. Salvation, like all things from God, is a gift.
James asserts: God gave us birth by the word of truth and we are to welcome this word implanted in us with meekness.
We live in the midst of profound miracle through God’s power and provision for us, but we still – still - are plagued by limitation. We sin, we fall short…and we do this, at times with great creativity.
James also asserts: if we are mere hearers of the word we “deceive ourselves” and become like one who walks away from a mirror and forgets what they looked like. James strongly says, religion lived from a deceived heart is worthless…worthless.
The word for heart in the Greek James uses will sound familiar: Kardia. Cardia. Cardio. We think of our hearts physically. However, in the Greek this is a big word conceptually and, in our context, refers to the center of our physical and spiritual life. From the New Testament Greek, Lexicon sees that this involves the mind, the will and character, and emotions or appetites and desires. Great inclusivity in its meaning.
August 12, 2018
Not a word we hear much in our daily life these days…another related word we think about more – character. Character being in simplicity the habits of our lives.
Integrity is related. Integrity has to do with the quality of our behavior. C. S. Lewis in his essay “Men without Chests” gives a helpful glimpse as he criticizes development of people that is cerebral – the mind, and visceral – the appetites, but neglects the importance of the chest – that which links or tames our thinking and our appetites. Lewis calls the chest the seat of the sentiment or place of magnanimity in our lives. Magnanimity is the quality of our behavior – it is noble, generous. Lewis asserted boldly, “by intellect one is mere spirit and by one’s appetite mere animal.”
The biblical idea of integrity is wholeness - completeness, moral innocence. It has the idea of soundness of character and adherence to moral character. Often in scripture, it also is coupled with the idea of ‘walking’ in integrity. This implies the habitual manner of life as being bound with integrity.
Do you see David or Absalom in this? For both we’ve seen over the past few weeks lives lacking integrity. In the language of C. S. Lewis, David, and Absalom were literally “men without chests” - making choice out of appetites – lust, violence, selfish ambition, anger, greed.
Let me sum up – because we’ve missed a few headlines in our Sunday propers:
David had many children – 20 are named in scripture – and David had many partners. There was struggle relationally among the four oldest – all from different mothers – for Absalom, 2nd in line for succession, this was personal between him and Amnon, 1st in line for succession.
May 06, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Over the last several weeks we’ve been hearing of many miraculous stories from the book of Acts and through John – both his gospel and letters – we have been very repetitively hearing about love, and this last two weeks abiding and obeying commands. It’s an easy time as we’ve reached week six in celebrating Easter with all these repetitions to zone out…to miss it…but there’s some stuff going on here…
The word love is getting thrown around a lot. It’s a word we hear all the time.
We think about it a lot.
The Beatles asserted – All you need is Love
In the musing on love all is not good news – the J. Geils Band in the 80’s exclaimed – Love Stinks
Tina Turner asked, What’s love got to do with it?
The Captain & Tenille claimed (before their divorce) – Love will Keep us Together
Huey Lewis is wowed by the Power of Love
What’s funny in the English language is that we have one word for love: Love. We use the same word to say to our spouse or significant other to express ourselves that we say to express our feelings about pizza: I love you. I love pizza. Love. This concept can seem so vague while being so significant.
No wonder it's befuddling when we hear that God is love.
It helps us to consider the word love in the Greek – the language of it’s writing in the New Testament. In Greek, there are four words for love – Eros, Philos, Storge, and Agape.
In our readings today, the repetitive use of the word love is actually 2 kinds of love (Strong’s concordance helps us here) they are cognates of Philos – friend love or confidant, beloved and the other is a cognate of agape – in its meaning it is wide: a benevolence, unconditional – transcending circumstance or behavior…it just is.