Monthly Archives: February 2019

Blessed are Those who F.R.O.G. (Fully Rely on God)

A Sermon for 17 February 2019

A reading from the gospel of Luke 6:17-26.  And remember that right before the reading we hear today, the gospel of Luke records that Jesus choses 12 to be apostles – ones sent out in the world to carry on his mission.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus came down with them (the twelve) and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.  20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:  ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

Ah!  The beloved beatitudes according to the gospel of Luke:  the blessings and the woes.  Blessed!  Blessed are the poor!  Blessed are the hungry!  Blessed are they who mourn!  Blessed are the rejected!  Rejoice and be glad for theirs is the kingdom of God!

I don’t know about you; but all I can ask is:  why?

The closest I’ve ever come to being poor has been trying to eek by on little to no money coming in as I worked my way through a very expensive Divinity School degree on SpaghettiOs, oatmeal, and plain rice – which was about all I could afford in those days.  Honestly:  it didn’t feel very much like a blessing.  Most of us only have been truly hungry because we forgot to get ourselves up or out of whatever we’d been doing to make our way into plentiful kitchens, with running water, and electricity to ensure a refrigerator full of fresh food and drink.  Can we imagine real hunger?  Pain in our bellies because there is no food to be found.  No freshwater.  Again.  Because of the circumstances of our lives.  Why would anybody say it’s a blessing to be hungry?  And what about mourning?  We all know this one – or will at some point in our lives if we’re willing to open our hearts enough to truly love.  To allow ourselves to fall deeply in love with a partner or a friend or a child or a vocation so much so that our own insides literally feel broken when they are no more.  When things fall apart.  When our loved one dies.  When it all comes to an end.  Any of us who have truly loved – which I imagine is every one of us sitting in this room – know how it feels to mourn.  In that dark pit, it doesn’t feel very blessed, does it?  Why would anybody say blessed are they who mourn?  And what about those being hated, rejected, reviled?  While I’ve known my fair share of struggles as a woman in this biz – one who sometimes doesn’t fit others’ expectations – I don’t remember ever experiencing the evil face of hatred.  Some of us may know this one better than others and I doubt that it feels very much like a blessing to be told that who you are or what you represent or what you believe or how you choose to live in this world is unacceptable.  Worthy of persecution through fear mongering or violating crime or riotous rage.  Why would anybody say it’s a blessing to be reviled, rejected, persecuted on account of the Son of Man?

Maybe it would help to remember what it means to be blessed.  To have the favor of another upon us.  In The Soul’s Slow Ripening:  12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, Christine Valters Paintner writes a whole chapter on “The Practice of Blessing Each Moment.”  She explains the verb blessing.  She writes:  “Blessing is to live life from a place of gratitude, to offer thanks and honor for everything that we have, taking nothing for granted.  When we remember to bless . . . we begin to live from an enlarged sense of being” (Sorin Books: 2018; p. 39).  Paintner’s definition comes close to what the opposite way of living is like – the way Jesus warns with woe.  Paintner writes:  “At the heart of this practice and way of life is paying mindful attention to our lives.  I know hours, days, and weeks can go by sometimes before I discover I have been skimming the surface of things, preoccupied by too many tasks to complete.”  Paintner continues:  “My calendar and to-do lists become misplaced holy grails.”  . . .  She concludes:  “When we skate through life’s endless demands on us, we lose our connection to (the) deep well of nourishment” (Ibid., p. 40).  Perhaps there’s no guarantee that poverty, hunger, mourning, being despised will lead to staying connected to The Deep Well of Nourishment that is God.  But isn’t it the case, that when there is less of me (as Eugene Peterson’s take on the gospel of Matthew’s beatitudes goes in Peterson’s biblical translation called The Message).  When there is less of me, there is more of God and God’s reign.  When we’re at the end of our own ropes, we’ve no where left to turn to but to God and God’s people.  When we’ve lost all that really matters to us, our arms are left open to be embraced by the only One who really matters (paraphrase of Matthew 5:3-4).  When we can manage on our own, why bother to call upon God for anything?

I wonder about that a lot when I reflect upon the big picture view of what’s happening in so many churches today.  Everywhere we look it appears as if we’re in lean days as the body of Christ.  And then I remember what I’ve noticed in myself – what I’ve noticed in you and in other churches I’ve served these last ten or more years of significant cultural shifts.  Churches are doing things they never, ever, ever would have tried before.  Opening their doors, their hearts, their minds – not just on Sundays, but on Mondays through Saturdays too.  I have a sister who is staff support for the older adult ministry organization of Presbyterians who has told me of all sorts of senior adult ministries happening all throughout the week in congregations that used to do little more than Sunday morning worship.  I read about churches beginning Holy Grounds coffee shops in strip malls to get to know whoever comes in – in particular:  being open late nights Fridays after high school games for students to have a safe place to gather.  I’ve heard of congregations doing things like Lenten podcasts for those who commute in the community – kicked off by drive through imposition ashes on Ash Wednesday.  I see members of the body of Christ finding new ways to build meaningful spiritual connection with one another.  And – as I heard one of you remind us last Sunday night regarding our Mending Heart lunches:  welcoming through our open doors those who may no longer be welcomed by their biological families in their own homes.  I behold it all and wonder:  if everything was going just great – pews over-flowing and church coffers overstuffed – would any of these new ways of being disciples in the world be taking place?  If we could manage it all on our own, would we need to rely so heavily on the winds of the Holy Spirit to blow fresh vision into Christians here and around the globe?

About the beatitudes as recorded in the gospel of Luke, one biblical commentator writes, “God does not take kindly to half-heartedness.  God does not bless us as we maintain the status quo, reaping the accolades of those who hear us and follow us.  God does not bless us as we bathe in respectability in the eyes of the world.  God does not bless us as we quietly maintain tradition and gloss over or ignore prophetic voices calling us back to God – in the church and in the world.  God does not bless us as we protect and build institutions and empires.  God does not bless us, well off, full, comfortable, hearty, and well-spoken of.  The realm of God rests among those who have nothing but God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, David L. Ostendorf, p. 360).  That same commentator writes:  “God wants the entirety of our lives.  The destitute poor have nowhere to turn but to God” (Ibid., p. 358).  For let’s face it:  only that which is empty can be filled up.  Only that which is broken can be shared.  Only those who know their need, can rightly ask.

Jesus wants his followers to know.  The blessings.  The woes.  The joy of utter reliance upon God.  The surprises we will see.  The Way with space enough to unfold.  Why?  Because there, in the midst of what is rejected, broken, battered within and without – there in what is called the Pascal Mystery – there dwells God.  Sovereign of all; crucified yet risen Christ!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Discipleship Today: A Sermon for Allie’s Baptism

A Sermon for 10 February 2019

For the next several weeks in this season of Epiphany, the lectionary takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Today our reading follows Jesus’ first two healing stories recorded in detail by Luke – one being the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law when Jesus was at Simon Peter’s house.  The gospel next reports that many were brought to Jesus for healing.  Jesus departs to pray in a deserted place alone while he’s sought by the crowds who naturally want him to remain to do more marvelous works in their midst.  Perhaps because of his time of prayer alone, Jesus declares to them:  “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  He goes on his way to continue his mission, and then we hear in Luke 5:1-11 what next takes place.  Listen for God’s word to us through this reading.

“Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret,” (which is the Sea of Galilee) “and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Jesus got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore.  Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he had finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.  Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

            This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

In a few minutes, Allie will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.  Like most of us raised Presbyterian, her journey with Christ begins by parents making promises for her.  Family and friends committed to supporting her.  A whole community of faith vowing to pray for her and nurture her faith whatever ways we can as she soon goes with her family to their new home in Texas.  Like most of us, her path of following Christ will unfold gradually.  No dramatic encounter with Jesus as we hear of in Luke’s gospel when Peter and his business partners James and John brought to shore boats overflowing with fish, then left it all behind to live out their call from Christ.  I suspect that for Allie, as for most of us, discernment of the Way will unfold more like an opening cocoon.  Slowly, when the time is just right.  She’ll hear the stories of Jesus as we all have along our way.  Learn the songs of faith.  Figure out how it works best for her to pray to be connected to The Source in order to discern the steps to take each day.

Maybe I’m pining for the past of how amazingly clarifying it must have been to have Jesus show up on the scene.  Walk right into the vessel of your profession to transform a stinky old fishing boat into a pulpit from which he preached.  Asking Peter to put out just off the shore that he could tell the good news of God’s kingdom.  After Jesus’ Amen, his command to put out into the deep water to let down the nets for a catch, changed Peter’s little boat into a eucharist table – clearly showing the goodness of God!  The fish overflowing in such abundance, Peter had to call James and John quick to come help!  One commentator reminds that “More than a ‘natural miracle,’ the catch of fish also is layered with eucharistic allusions.  (For) fish mean food, and wherever we read about fish in the Gospels, we are reading about the miracle of sustenance for the new community that Jesus is creating in the call of the first disciples” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Peter Eaton, p. 335).  Wouldn’t it be wonderful on our own journeys as disciples to have such a clear, concrete sign of the sustenance we need?  The food for which our spirits long that will keep us filled as a community and as individual followers of Christ each day as we serve wherever we are sent.  I want that for little Allie – don’t you?  And for ourselves.  The miracle of the sustenance we need to grow more each day as Christ’s faithful disciples.

That’s what we are.  Through baptism:  sealed with the outward sign that we belong to Christ.  We have committed to being his faithful disciples!  . . .  But.  How often we feel just like Peter does in the story:  unworthy of God’s Presence.  Not good enough to be put in service like Christ.  Ill-equipped to proclaim good news.  To speak of God’s work to re-create this world.  How often we think our efforts aren’t enough as Christ’s disciples.  Or that, like Peter, James, and John, the REAL disciples; the gig’s about leaving it all behind – becoming like a totally different person with a totally different life trajectory.  And let’s face it:  there’s about 0% chance most any of us are going to leave it all behind dramatically – willingly divest ourselves of our employment, our families, our homes, our investment portfolios to chase all over the countryside healing and teaching and enlisting outsiders in God’s resurrection movement!  So, we decide being a disciple was for folks long, long ago.  Ones first encountering Jesus of Nazareth when his ministry began.  What does discipleship look like today?  For folks like us who aren’t being recruited to begin what Peter, James, and John began world-wide because of Christ.  What will being a faithful disciple look like for little ones freshly baptized – and for us, some baptized over eighty years ago?

Recently I came across anonymous words that were written by someone on a spiritual retreat.  I don’t know much about the person, but it seems the person was wrestling with what discipleship looks like today.  The words read:  “It is baffling to me, who always has been so driven to achieve, that I find myself at a time of life now in which I am driven to connect.  To connect with companions and allow that process to unfold.  To connect with the Holy and to allow that relationship to unfold.  To connect with my deepest Self – and to allow that process and person to be revealed.  So, the intended course becomes much more a following than a driven, planned-by-me direction.  Is it all simply about following?  Moments to decide still come.  But it is as if I have committed to the unfolding – to following the Mystery.  The allowing.  The listening.  The waiting.  All shall be well, (as Julian of Norwich reminds).  Intentions still arise, but they are different than I ever could have imagined for myself.”  The retreatant then wonders:  “Is this what Christ meant?  Crucify your self – your need for your own plan, in order just to follow?  Follow the nudge – the thread?  The stirring of what brings you fully alive?  Let the rest be.  Then, might I heartily be able to say:  ‘I HAVE decided to follow the Christ!  No turning back.  No turning back!’” (anonymous words from a spiritual retreatant).

Is this what discipleship will look like for Allie, and for all of us baptized as disciples of Christ?  Following the nudge.  Paying attention for the stirring of what brings us fully alive.  Allowing Way to unfold – sometimes waiting; always listening.  Not frantically groping in darkness at the Mystery; but allowing the Mystery to call to us as who we are and how we are to be in the world each day is revealed through those ah-has.  Those awakening insights that cause inner shifts.  So, we see the world a bit differently.  We willingly try new ways of caring – new ways of showing through action and word the good news of a kingdom in our midst.  A reign residing in and beyond us that is the direction of our path.

In a few minutes, little Allie will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.  A reminder that the Light of Christ is in her and it is incumbent upon her, as she grows, to shine.  Like Peter.  Like James.  Like John.  Like Jesus.  Like us:  baptized in Christ, disciples of the Way, we are raised to the new life of following the Light to be light in the world for all to see.  . . .  Come!  Let us gather at the font.  Let us celebrate the baptism of the newest disciple of Christ!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

 

To See as Jesus Sees

A Sermon for 3 February 2019

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:21-30.  We learn in the verses earlier in chapter 4, that Jesus has been tempted in the wilderness after his baptism that confirmed he is God’s Son.  Upon the completion of his wilderness testing, he returns to Galilee filled with the power of the Spirit.  He goes to his hometown Nazareth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah when gathering with others in the synagogue on the sabbath.  Remember:  he chooses to read the part from the prophet about the Spirit of the LORD being upon him.  Being anointed to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover the sight of the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor – the year of jubilee! (Luke 4:18-19).  Right before the verses we hear today; Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The gospel records that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:20).  Everything was going really good!  Then, the reading assigned for today begins.  To learn what happens next, listen for God’s word to us in a reading of Luke 4:21-30.

“Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

            Thanks be to God!

 

Well, here we have a very good example of what NOT to do if you ever want to get scheduled again as worship liturgist for the day!  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit after being baptized and tested in the wilderness, Jesus (according to Luke’s chronology of the good news) goes back home.  Just in time to gather with his old friends and family for sabbath; he heads to the synagogue for worship.  He’s given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah – he doesn’t totally self-select the words he wanted all to hear that day.  Finding the part about the one anointed by the Spirit to proclaim God’s favor, he stands erect to read.

Of course, it was a beloved reading!  He was standing in the synagogue among those he’d seen all his life.  Scraping by on their little plots in Nazareth.  Living under the continuous threat of Roman soldiers.  Close to the spot in Galilee where foreign armies had invaded the land for centuries – the gateway between Egyptian power to the southwest in Africa; and northern and eastern powers like Syria, Babylon, Persia.  Not to mention a Mediterranean boarder vulnerable to invasion by Rome, Greece, anywhere in the Western world.  Jesus was a part of this crowd, had grown up in their midst; so that in fact he would have known the joy in their hearts that day in Nazareth to hear again the prophet’s promise from God that an anointed one was coming.  Good news was for those crushed under the poverty of foreign oppressors.  The favor of the LORD rested upon them all!

Imagine how the day might have went had Jesus left well enough alone.  Stopped right there.  According to the gospel of Luke’s telling of the events, the issue’s not because of Jesus’ lofty proclamation that he is the One!  His downhome folks in the synagogue are mesmerized by him.  The graciousness that poured forth from his mouth.  What a gift to hear the time had been fulfilled.  God’s change is a’coming!  But, launching into provocation, Jesus pushes.  “Doctor, cure thyself?” he quips.  He goes on saying, like:  “How about a reminder that God long has seen differently?  Like it or not, the outsiders repeatedly are in his examples declare.  God brings hope through foreign widows.  God heals commanders of invading armies.  It’s easy enough to see, Jesus is saying – unless you are totally blind, say like by a mis-guided sense of tribalism.  A mis-informed understanding of the way God always has worked.  A mis-directed heart that continues to buy into the system’s view of separation.  Differentiation.  Division between us and them” (paraphrase of Luke 4:24-27).  Wanna get hurled off a cliff from an enraged response to God’s way of seeing things?  Just point out to people that from the beginning of time God has made us one.  As the authors of The Luminous Gospels write:  “the return to oneness from twoness (duality) is the ultimate goal in the spiritual evolution of humanity” (The Luminous Gospels:  Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip, by Lynn C. Bauman, Ward J. Bauman, Cynthia Bourgeault; Praxis Publishing, 2008; p. 4).  Jesus wanted us to see!  To know the steps we must take!  . . .  Hometown folks snap!  His words hold a mirror up to their faces.  And they are not at all interested in taking a look!

In The Art of Letting Go; Catholic priest, spiritual teacher, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, explains the eyes with which Christ invites us to see.  Rohr says:  “If I believe Jesus, I believe God is wherever the suffering is.  God goes wherever the pain is.  . . .  I believe awakened and aware people go where the suffering is.  Go where people have been excluded.  Expelled.  Diminished.  Abused.  And that is where they find God” (The Art of Letting Go:  Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, Richard Rohr, A Sounds True Audio Learning Course, 2010.  Quotes from chapter 2).  That is where we see rightly, as Christ sees.  No separation between ourselves and another.  No separation between God and all.  Rohr explains:  “I look at the life of Jesus . . . and I gain courage to believe it because of (him).  That’s what (he) did.  (He) did not live . . . judging and labeling things up or down” (Ibid.).  Rohr declares, rather, “Jesus, a bona fide and proud Jew, makes the heroes of almost every one of his parables and stories . . . a non-Jew.  . . .  Jesus always praises the outsider and critiques the insider” (Ibid.).  Rohr invites us to imagine “how different Western history could have been, how different Western religion could have been if . . . we had treated other people with inherent dignity.  Inherent respect,” Rohr states (Ibid.).  Where we honor and see, as Rohr calls it: “the Divine DNA in everybody else” . . . as equally as we see it in ourselves! (Ibid.).

Can we see the Divine DNA in everybody else, as equally as we see it in ourselves?  . . .  Think about it.  Does the mess of the world begin within ourselves?  Because we can’t see in ourselves the indwelling Spirit of God; so, of course, we are not able to see God living in anyone else???  Would Jesus quote that proverb:  “Doctor, cure thyself” (Luke 4:23)?  Father Rohr wisely concludes:  “All awareness.  All enlightenment.  All aliveness.  All transformation begins with an inner awakening:  that you recognize your own inherent dignity.  (That we see our) DNA is Divine.  That,” Rohr states, “moves you . . . to this world of reverence.  This view of respect.  This attitude of love” (Ibid.).

When we see with those eyes – the Presence within and without, we see as Jesus did.  Our dual minds overcome, as two at last become one!  . . .  It’s not an easy path – we might rather drive him to the cliff to hurl him off in a rage!  . . .  The gospel of Luke starts Christ’s good news with a story that challenges us to see differently – an act that takes conversion.  The inner transformation for which Christ came.  The daily discipline of awakening the Spirit within that we will see it in all as well.  . . .  Here is the good news:  to see as Jesus sees.  May it be our daily prayer.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).