Monthly Archives: March 2015

Pilgrimage Remembrances #1

It’s been a year — almost to the date.  And so, I’m revisiting the trip.  Quite a journey!  My pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Lent 2014.  One year later, my journal entries take me back.  I hope they give insight and meaning to your Lenten season this year.

Bread on our Journeys!

RevJule

8 March 2014:  So a new day.  Yesterday was so amazing!  (I’m one day behind on my posts of the pilgrimage, so just enjoy what is shared here!)

A View of Magdala and the Valley Road (or Valley of Doves) from Mount Arbel.  (Jesus' route from home in Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee).

A View of Magdala and the Valley Road (or Valley of Doves) from Mount Arbel. (Jesus’ route from home in Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee).

Tabgha:  The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish.

Tabgha: The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish.

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So many incredible moments here (in Galilee on 7 March 2014)!  Such a beautiful country.  And so moving to contemplate where Jesus grew up and played and rested and called and taught and healed and replenished himself with Peter and his friends and family.  The backdrop of his life — this geography — is amazing!  The meeting place of all the nations for rest is where he made his home during much of his ministry:  Capernaum in the home of Peter.  Capernaum, one of the wealthiest and largest towns in Galilee in his day, was at the northeast corner of Galilee.  The meeting place of all nations — Jordan and Syria and Israel!  It had to be a huge influence on his understanding of God being about peace — unity.  Harmony with one another no matter what.  The judgment that was in him was discernment based on that SHALOM.  That absolute, wide-expanse of love!

A View at Capernaum from the Sea of Galilee to the Synagogue -- Peter's home (not pictured) between the two.

A View at Capernaum from the Sea of Galilee to the Synagogue — Peter’s home (not pictured) between the two.

Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes.  "And Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called children of God'." (Matthew 5:9)

Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes. “And Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called children of God’.” (Matthew 5:9)

And now . . .  onto the Sea of Galilee!

So here we are on a boat on the Sea of Galilee! And the waves are a’rocken. But they were fishermen – on this very water! Certainly they experienced rough waters on this little lake before. I guess they weren’t all fishermen. So I could see how they were afraid.

The Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee.

(Later): As it turned out, we had to cut our boat ride short because a storm from the south suddenly swept in. Rain started – great big pellet kind of drops. It seemed the boat captain was afraid. He didn’t want us stuck out there. Neither did he want us (or his boat) injured!

A sudden storm began.  8 March 2014.

A sudden storm began. 8 March 2014.

When the storm started, I immediately was taken back to the last cruise I had been on. As we set sail on the ocean, that huge ship started rocking. I was on a massage table at the time – a bon voyage discount. I remember fighting it at first. Then relaxing into the waves – rocking with the water instead of against it. Deepening myself in trust. In those moments, I grew certain that the God who created the universe — the God who created me — held us all. Held me. . . . No matter the storms that blow. No matter how much that boat today on the Sea of Galilee was rocking, we were held. No need to fear. I totally can imagine Jesus falling asleep in that trust. Secure. Because gently the waves remind us that God holds us through it all. In tender love, in strong bonds that never, ever, ever will let us go. Gently we can relax into the gift of those rocking waves — those sudden storms of life.

O you of little faith, why EVER do you fear?

God, hold me each step of the way.

First Century boat excavated from the Sea of Galilee.

First Century boat excavated from the Sea of Galilee.

And now: onto the Church of the Primacy of Peter.  “Then Peter said,

  ‘I am going fishing . . .’” (John 21)

Lord, after your resurrection, here it was you came – as a surprise – to greet your wayward disciples. To feed them. To love them. To get them ready to be sent. What did they feel in those moments after your horrible death and rumored resurrection? What did they think? Were they ready? Did they believe themselves equipped?

You Lord, you as the Risen Christ, came to them – as surprise. Unrecognized at first. And to them you said: “Come. Eat. Be nourished. Now go in our love for one another. It’s not just about me — or for me. It’s for the benefit of my sheep. Go: feed them. Tend them. Love them. Show them.”

The Church of the Primacy of Peter (where the Risen Christ fed his disciples on the beach on the Sea of Galilee).

The Church of the Primacy of Peter (where the Risen Christ fed his disciples on the beach on the Sea of Galilee).

So easily we can be distracted. Caught up in that which is around us. Nearly trampled by that which is other than your command to serve. Yet you show up.  . . .  After you feed us, you send us. And it’s not just a one-time taste meant to fill us up for good. Not a one-time meal and that’s enough. Instead: over and over again. It’s a cycle. “Rest with me as you eat. Feed. Now go. . . . Eat. Feed. Go. Eat. Feed. Go.”

From this beach you sent them on a journey in which they would never ever be the same. From here you send us all on a journey to be changed. To change. To falter and then to get back up again – like you after crucifixion: again (thanks be to God) you stood up!

8 March 2014 - at Primacy of Peter, Sea of Galilee.

8 March 2014 – at Primacy of Peter, Sea of Galilee.

This might as well be the beach called Genesis: the start of new beginnings. This might as well be my spot. A fresh start. A re-freshed beginning.

Thank you God for the food of this place. The nourishment of fellow pilgrims who also are sent to serve on your behalf in this world. Thank you for simple gifts: remembrance. Bread. Wine. Vision. Beautiful inspiration. A chance to hear and begin again.

Lord, you did not shame them in their distraction – their return to fishing after your death. In their fear. In their doubt:  you met them where they had wandered. Then you simply asked: “Is there love in that heart for me? . . .  That is enough!  Go: feed others who need the same kind of sustenance for their walk in this world. I will be with you. I will surprise. I will be revealed. I will provide. It shall be enough.”

The Lord's Table at the Primacy of Peter, Galilee; 8 March 2014.

The Lord’s Table at the Primacy of Peter, Galilee; 8 March 2014.

All shall be well . . . thanks be to God!

-RevJule

(Copyright JMN-2015. All rights reserved.)

Our Crosses

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!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 1 March 2015 – Second Sunday During the Season of Lent

Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+8:31-38

It’s Lent, so I guess public confession is good.  Here goes. Someone really hurt my feelings last week. Don’t worry – it wasn’t anyone connected to the church!  It was something someone else I know said to me, about me, last week. And it hurt. My ego got bumped. I got mad.   . . .  Am I the only one this ever happens to?   . . .  For at least the first two days, I wanted to call up my best friends and trash talk. Tell them all about it. Point fingers at the person who said what they said. Get them on my side about it all just so I would be justified.   . . .  Seriously: am I the only one stuff like this ever happens to?   I don’t think so, though I realize some of us are further along on the continuum regarding such things.

Recently I heard a beloved, deep-on-the-journey spiritual leader talk about it on national television. The interviewer asked him something about him living each day in the flow or absolute love of God. And he confessed that though he writes and talks eloquently about the absolute love of God – the Ground of our very being, sometimes he’s there. But not always. And some weeks not even every day. This is someone who has devoted his life to daily silence, scripture reading, study, communal living, and prayer. He’s sought after worldwide for in-person lectures. His printed works sell millions and his visual and audio recordings are bringing life to Christians all across the globe. And still, after nearly fifty years of the practice, he claims his own ego still gets bumped. People say things or do things that rub him wrong and before he knows it, he feels that pain. Now, thanks to his daily, life-long practices, he admits such annoyances come and go fairly quickly for him now – even things like getting cut off in traffic. Anyone get all worked up about that? But he doesn’t have that urge to call up BFFs to tell them all about it. And he doesn’t stew either –as the less verbal among us tend to do, right? Just soaking in our juices. Fuming about what so and so did or said that really got our goat.

It’s the first thing that comes to mind from Jesus’ words of the gospel of Mark. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It would be easy to keep such words way back then in history. Thinking about Peter, James, and John literally having to give up the regular ways of their lives to follow Jesus around Galilee before finally heading to Jerusalem. But the message isn’t just for those long ago. It’s for every last one of us. Today. In the real stuff of our lives.

If you were at Wednesday night to see it, or watched the link of the video we email blasted (click here to watch it:   https://vimeo.com/116071300) that was by the Barna Group about their findings regarding the unchurched, then you might remember that one of the major hurdles to Christianity today is that the unchurched, or church-less as they were calling them, cannot see any distinctive difference between how they are living their lives and how most of us church people are living ours. Ouch! The research showed that other than us being in worship sometimes on Sundays, for the most part, the daily lives and choices of most American Christians do not look all that different from the daily lives and choices of the church-less. Chilling, isn’t it? Because the One we claim to follow was pretty clear that we are not to be living the same as everyone else. In a world of rampant consumerism, self-absorbed self-interest, and escalating violence; we should stand out. It should be seen that we give of at least a portion of our time, talents, and money not for our own pleasure but for the benefit of others. It should be seen that we curb our appetites for more, more, more. It should be seen that, if nowhere else in this world, at least among us Christians forgiveness is genuinely practiced – love for all no matter what is the norm. All those good fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). It should be seen that we’re not about us and them but about one, beloved human family. One, united creation actually, that all is sacred unto God.   . . .  As an example to demonstrate his point, the Barna researcher spoke of an ancient practice of God’s people that can be incredibly relevant for today: keeping Sabbath. True rest as a creature in our amazing Creator without all our techno-gadgets. The point being that if others see us able to use, but not be addicted to our screens, like actually NOT all being on our smartphones as we sit at a meal in a restaurant. You’ve seen that, right? Dad taking a work call. Mom searching the web for something, and little Christian children playing whatever app they’re playing when the server comes to take their order. Sabbath just one day a week – or one hour if the consideration of one full day causes you an immediate sense of panic. Stopping from life like that, to rest in the natural beauty of this world. Truly connecting with one another face-to-face and even with our God; well, that would be one way to be an authentic witness today of denying ourselves to follow after the principles of another.

Our crosses might not look like the bloody devices of torture used by Rome to put to death anyone seeking to incite the people against their ways. Our crosses might look like practicing daily meditation so that we’re not as attached to the bumps and bruises of our egos. Steeping ourselves in the words and actions of Christ that the ways we interact with others blare with mercy and kindness and grace. The sacrifice of our own hidden agendas are seen by our colleagues out there in the world and even in here in the church. Not being doormats for everyone else to walk all over. Being our best selves in God by losing how we always want it to be for the sake of God’s grander vision to grow.

You know, the one who says to follow didn’t have to show up here in this world and live the kind of life he did. Jesus could have gone about his little carpenter life – eking out a living for the benefit of his own family. Keeping his unique worldview and talents to himself. He could have had year after year of his life used up just by getting by each day – trying merely to make it from sunup to sundown accomplishing the duties laid upon him by his business and family and friends. Or by making and taking more for himself, even at the expense of others. But he didn’t, did he? Which is why we know anything about him at all – this man who was truly one of us and yet truly of God as well. He turned to the Spirit. He gave space enough for God’s truth to grow in him. He enjoyed others – cherishing them, not trying to figure out how they could benefit himself. He quieted his own wants – probably by the times he daily stole off to be alone in prayer with God – until his only want was summed up in that amazing prayer in the garden: “Thy will be done, O God. Thy will.” That’s the way he was God with us. Showing us how to be Godlike in the world today.   . . .  With all the clamor and concern about how to live well these days, why do we look anywhere else but to the life of Jesus, the Christ?

“Those who want to save their own life,” he said, “will lose it.” But those who lose their life – giving up their own selves each day, like him? Those already know real Life! The point of it all.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Water and Ash

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!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 22 February 2015 – First Sunday during Season of Lent
Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+1:9-15

I know we Presbyterians prefer to have it all decently and in order, but thanks to the weather of this week, we’re a bit out of order today. It’s the first Sunday during the season of Lent, but before all’s said and done today, it’s going to feel a bit more like Ash Wednesday/Sunday. . . . The act of the ashes traditionally begins the season of Lent. Having the cross traced on our foreheads in the stuff that symbolizes our mortality reminds us of the mystery of our faith. But for the grace of God: poof. We are just a pile of ash. Each year we are to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But, thanks to the gracious love of God, that is NOT the end of our story. The gift of Ash Wednesday brings us back to our truth. And the gospel for the first Sunday during the season of Lent brings us back to our baptisms. It’s Jesus’ baptism actually, according to the gospel of Mark this year. So that, thanks to the turn of events in our weather this week, here we are today with water and ash.

One thing brings the two together. Oil. I know we don’t often use oil anymore in the Sacrament of Baptism. But it is called for according to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. In fact, it was an important part of baptism for early Christians. As far as we know, after an adult was fully immersed in the waters of baptism, they would kneel before the priest who would mark their forehead in oil with the sign of the cross. Laying hands upon them, the priest then would recite something close to what our baptismal rite calls for directly after the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Marking one’s forehead in the sign of a cross – in oil if able – the pastor says something like: “Child of the covenant, you are marked with God’s sign and God will keep the promises made to you in this sacrament forever” (modification of PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 414). It’s why we likewise begin funeral services with a reminder of a person’s baptism. Even in death, we are marked as God’s own.

You don’t see the oil we mix with the ash of Ash Wednesday. But it’s there: to ensure the ashes stick to your head. Perhaps a more practical presence for the oil, but we know of biblical traditions that call for the use oil on our faces during times of penitential fasts. We’re not to call attention to ourselves in our faithful discipleship of Christ. Matthew 6, the gospel text assigned for Ash Wednesday every year, instructs not to fast as hypocrites who are trying to clamor for attention over their holiness. Rather, Matthew records: “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your father who is in secret” (Mt. 6:17-18a).

Oil had another use in ancient Israel. For all we know, oil was how God’s kings were anointed. First and Second Kings both record the coronation of kings, Solomon and Joash. Trumpets are blown. Oil is used for anointing. And all the people shout: “Long live the king!” (I Kings 1:38-40 and 2 Kings 11:9-12). The kings were not God present to the people – they weren’t deified. But they were considered sanctified – made holy and empowered by God. Anointed with oil for the work to which God called them. (For further details, see http://www.jhom.com – Coronation in ancient Israel.)

The intriguing thing is: this one, Jesus, the Anointed One of God, isn’t anointed with oil – at least not at the start of his ministry. Unlike Israel’s ancient kings, this new King, Jesus of Nazareth, claims the sign of water as that which sets him apart. Along with the long line of sinners standing on Jordan’s banks, Jesus begins his work “with his descent into the waters of baptism” (Leah McKell Horton, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark; p. 9). As one commentator writes: “This (king), who has come to save God’s people is not marked for his role in the ordinary way (of kings). Jesus, the Messiah, takes on an unexpected identity right from the start. Rather than being set apart from the rest of us sinners, he partakes of the same baptism, joining all the unclean there in the waters” (Ibid., p. 11). And so the work God gave him to do begins.

We are called to meditate upon it. The season of Lent is the church’s annual, intentional period of reflection. Marked with these signs: the waters of baptism and the ash of our mortality, we are called to live out our roles as sons and daughters of the King. We are not mere mortals – the signs on our foreheads set us apart. So that whether we remember or not, when God gazes upon us, God sees it clearly. I like to think of it that if God had a thumb, then the Holy One has trace right upon each one of us: I love you (in the sign of the cross). Marked with God’s sign, we’re heirs of the covenant. Children of the kingdom whose lives belong in line behind the One who lived and died and lived again.
In a time of silent reflection, let us ready ourselves to receive again, and thereafter live, God’s sign . . .

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)