Monthly Archives: May 2014

“In” — John 14:15-21

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
25 May 2014 – 6th Sunday of Easter
John 14:15-21

Click here to read the scripture first: John 14:15-21 (NRS)

School years are ending this week. We’re in the midst of celebrating those who have sacrificed their lives for our country through the armed forces. And tomorrow marks the official acceptable time of changing over to our summer shoes and purses and white pants, right? . . . It’s all got me thinking about a boy who I have been watching become a young man. He came out carrot-top from the beginning with a beautiful mane of red hair that clearly was inherited from his grandmother. His looks favored her when he was young so much so that you could put baby pictures of her alongside him at the same age and swear he was the spitting image. It was as if you were looking at the exact same child. . . . Over the years, it’s become evident that he’s his parent’s offspring. He likes to ask questions. And push boundaries – as does his mother. He has fallen in love with singing – almost at the same age his mom did. He’s not afraid of going out into the world to discover where he fits – as both his parents kinda did. It’s easy to see them in him. You who are parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles certainly have observed this phenomenon up-close in your own lives. Children so often carry the characteristics of their parents. At the same time, children get into their parents. It’s been easy to see this too in the boy I’ve been watching grow. A little bit of who he is has gotten in to them. Because neither his mother or his father ever played a violin – as he does masterfully, or took up soccer, or had anything to do with Boy or Girl Scouts. This boy has expanded their world as he’s gotten them listening to symphonies, and cheering on a soccer team, and even getting into things like earning badges and completing an Eagle Scout project. It’s kinda how it happens, right? Children reflect their parents. And as they grow, parents’ lives end up shaped – whether they like it or not – by the unique being that their child is. They are in him as much as he is in them.

It’s good to ponder the process a bit because it may be one of the closest analogies to give light to the message of the gospel of John which we hear today. . . . Chapter 14 of John is just the beginning really of Jesus’ very long speech to his disciples. It may feel a little bit of a rewind as this text puts Jesus and his disciples back together at a supper right before he goes out to the garden of Gethsemane to be arrested and crucified. We’re six Sundays into the season of Easter, but the gospel of John points us back to before all that action began. The words of the gospel of John that we heard today happen at table after he’s washed every last one of their feet – including the feet of Judas who would betray him, Peter who would deny him, and the rest who would scatter and flee. Often referred to as the Farewell Discourse, this section of the gospel of John starts with a reminder that Jesus (knowing that his hour has come): Having loved his own, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). . . . Things are about to go awry. Their world is about to be destroyed; their hearts crushed as the nails are driven one by one into his hands and feet. Out of deep love for those who are about to feel 100% abandoned – alone, Jesus speaks. Such beautiful words like: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). He knows this horrific night will shatter them. Like an emergency room chaplain trying to comfort the bereaved who just heard their loved one didn’t make it; Jesus is trying to tell them it’s all going to be all right.

Of course, just telling them it’s all going to be all right would have gotten him an F in seminary Pastoral Care class. Because you’re not supposed to say it’s all ok when the worst tragedy hits! You’re not supposed to reach for empty platitudes about tomorrow is another day. All the pastoral care gurus tell you, you’re just supposed to be. With one in their grief. Alongside. A presence that can sit together with another in their pain so that they do not feel alone. That’s about all we can offer in such moments of the most intense grief – and it’s really all that’s needed: being with. Because as a person has to walk through that dark valley, the presence of another can be their strength. Their comfort. The light that can shine for them until their own world turns from grey into color again. All the casseroles in the world won’t do it – though the casseroles might be one way of enacting what Jesus ends up promising here.

He takes out what always have seemed to me to be mind-boggling words. On and on he goes about loving him and keeping commands and another Advocate and living and finally: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). If we had to draw it out, like in a game of Pictionary, it might look something like Russian nesting dolls – each one being in the next and all of them being one together. Or maybe even the fish that is in the water, but the water’s in the fish too through its gills and the composition of its body. . . . What Jesus’ is trying to say to those about to be adrift in a turbulent sea of grief is that, look: can you see the parents in the boy? Can you see the boy in the parents? . . . We’re in a relationship here. That’s the promise he gives to those who love him. Those who feel like he’s abandoning them in his death, resurrection, and eventual ascension; he wants them to know that he will be in them, just like he’s in God and they are in him. . . . We’ll be in Christ; as he’s in God and they’re in us.

It’s doubly needed, this word of presence – of Christ being in us as Christ is in God because it’s believed the gospel of John was written to Christ’s followers right around 100 A.D. About two generations after Christ’s death and resurrection, and just a couple decades or so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Things were getting tough for the first followers of Christ around that time because Jews were trying to figure out what it meant to be Jews after their Temple was destroyed (again) in 70 A.D. And followers of Christ’s Way no longer could rest on Temple worship alongside certain practices at home, as they did after the first Easter. These two groups were deeply on the way to becoming distinct religious movements. Those first hearing the gospel of John really needed to know that before his death and resurrection Jesus promised his disciples they would not be alone. He was not leaving them orphaned as he told them to carry on in the mission he began. In fact, some of the gospel of John’s theology of the Risen Christ is coming through here. As we live in him – keeping his commandments; doing the things he did; the Risen Christ lives in us. Through us. The world can see that we’re the spitting image of him: apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree, isn’t that what is said sometimes? You can see the parents in the boy! The characteristics of Christ – which, Jesus in the Farewell Discourse wants us to know, are in fact the characteristics of the Triune God. Those traits of Christ shine through us because he’s in us; even as we’re in him. Just like he’s in God and God’s in him – does that make sense? His image is reflected in us – if we’re keeping his commandments.

The Apostle Paul’s metaphor from Colossians comes to mind. In chapter three he says that those of us who know ourselves raised with Christ are to put on certain clothes. As if each was a separate piece of our wardrobe we were putting on in the morning: a shirt of compassion, socks of kindness, trousers of humility, shoes of meekness, and spruce it all up with the accessory of patience. We put on each garment of the characteristics of Christ as we ready ourselves to head out the door for our daily walk. Of course, the difference here in the gospel of John, is that it’s not like clothes on the outside. It’s Christ in us – from the inside out and us in him. The parents in the boy as much as the boy is in the parents. Which is not to say that Christ changes because of who we are; but more to say that because of the unique skin of who each of us is, Christ takes on all sorts of wonderful forms in this world. He lives through so many more amazing gifts and abilities each one of us is and has. It’s kinda beautiful that he and his ways get lived out through children and youth and adults alike. That those things of compassion and kindness and humility take form through those of us who are right-brained and those of us who are left-brained. Through the feminine and the masculine. Through those who connect well with younger people and those who tend the aging best. He lives in us; and we live in him!

How can that not spur us on in good days and in darkest valleys? How can we not be motivated to live out his commands – knowing that we’re not alone in that process. It’s not on our own efforts; Christ is in us. We’re in him; just like he’s in God and God is in him. They’re in us. Just get out of their way and let those traits – the characteristics of Christ that are in us come pouring out. Which might be something we have to grow into; something that unfolds deeper and deeper through the years so that those around us recognize Christ in us a little bit more day by day just as we see those parents in that boy as he grows.

What good news. A gift from our God! The Risen Christ in us and we in him!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)


Today the conversation at Lunch Bunch somehow turned to gardens.  In particular, one person was relaying how hard this winter was on her beloved gardenia bush.  It died and she was going to have to get her son to come take it out for her — it grew far larger than she could manage by herself.  It brought to mind the three dead shrubs right out front of my friend’s condo (where my puppy Rufus and I temporarily are residing in the guest room).  Several times I have wondered when the condo landscape company will come replace the eye-sore of the dead bushes.  Last week I was so tired of looking at these dead bushes that I asked my friend when they might be replaced.  No telling was the answer, and I rolled my eyes thinking that if I had any jurisdiction over those bushes, I’d NEVER allow them to be dead out there for who knows how long.  I was convinced the landscape company must have no idea what they’re doing!

Tonight we were sitting out on the front porch right behind the dead shrubs reading before the sun went down.  It’s a great treat to just relax with inspiring words at the end of a long day.  (Check my GoodReads to see what ones I most enjoy!)  Rufus was on my lap but he wasn’t having any of it.  He was doing nothing but squirming.  I know he only just turned one year old last week, but why can’t he ever just sit quietly on my lap when I want to unwind???  I’d finally had enough and put him down on the ground.  As soon as his little paws hit the ground, he was digging his nose into the dead leaves under the dead bush.  Great.  Another good reason for the thing to be ripped out.  Though I tried to get Ru to leave it, he burrowed his little snout deeper into that dead bush.  And the next thing I know two baby bunnies popped up from no where!  Suddenly it all made sense why a rabbit was sitting on the porch before we went out there to read.  Her babies were being bedded down for the night under the bush I thought was absolutely good for nothing.

Her act left me thinking.  What I see as an eye-sore, that momma rabbit saw as home.  What I wanted upgraded for a new thing, that momma and her babies knew as the perfect spot for their greyish-brown coats safely to blend right in.  It makes me pause to consider what else I might be missing in this world — what else I might overlook because I want it to be one thing, but beautifully it is exactly what another needs.  Hmm.  I can spend some time pondering that.  It’s a good reminder on perspective — a good reminder to look again just in case a wonderful surprise is hiding from plain view.

What about you?  What wonderful surprise might you be overlooking?

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Sabbath Rest

Today I have practiced Sabbath: my time to stop, to cease, to allow the voice of God to define me — not any others. I keep Sabbath according to creation from sundown to sundown every seventh day, but more on that in another post.

This Sabbath included an early morning at the Nashville National Cemetery. I’m not the most patriotic type and would prefer we didn’t expend dollars and lives on the things of war, but I promised I’d join with our church choir for this community performance. And I do love to sing.

I learned today that inspiration can sneak up on you when you least expect it. I never would have imagined how easily tears would come to my eyes and how my arms would get all goose-bumped during such a ceremony. It started halfway through our first song (“God Bless America” — though I pray God blesses all other lands as well; but I really did feel a sense today that this is the land that I love). Later when we sang a tribute to each branch of the armed forces, those who have served came forward to stand right next to us. I was the soprano at the end of the line so an Army veteran came to stand next to me. His left elbow brushed up against my right elbow while we sang. After the song, it took a while for me to collect myself enough to turn to him to extend a hand of gratitude. All I could muster as I looked him in the eye was the simple phrase: “Thank you.” I guess it was something about their willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others — or maybe be drafted, but go anyway. My maternal grandfather served, though he never saw a frontline. I learned today that while I may not always like the decisions of our country’s leaders, I am inspired by the courage and generosity of our country’s men and women.

Sabbath proved to be a time of creativity, rest, and unexpected inspiration! Thank you to all who willingly serve.


23 May 2014

Several years ago, I completed one of those late-night, self-help quizzes that asked what was the one thing I had to have in my life each day.  At first I thought of my family and friends, my beloved toy poodle, and even world peace.  But the more I thought, the more I realized that something in me craves inspiration.  Daily.  My soul needs to be inspired each day as much as our bodies need daily bread.  Whether it be a wonderful story, beautiful music, or rousing words; each day I need to be inspired!

For a long time I’ve been looking outside of myself for such inspiration.  Everything from the quiet of the morning from my back patio to quotes from famous speeches to soothing words of the Psalms of the Bible.  Daily inspiration has come to me from all sorts of sources.  And today, I’ve decided it’s finally time I listen to the inspiration arising inside of me:  the phrases that sustain, the images that come, the feelings that ground me in a knowing that cannot be challenged.  Today I begin the process of mining inspiration that comes through the living of my own days that it might be sustenance for the living of ALL of our days.  I hope that the insights shared here may bring us all the hope, love, and joy we each need to live inspired every day.

Join me in this feast of bread on our journeys!

And while we’re at it:  how about you?  What inspiring words or images from your journey do you have to share today?