Author Archives: RevJule

About RevJule

RevJule is a pastor of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is The Rev. Dr. Jule, who holds a BA in Theology from Valparaiso University, a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and a Doctorate of Ministry (in Gospel and Culture) from Columbia Theological Seminary of Decatur, GA. She soon recently completed a Certificate of Christian Spiritual Formation from Columbia Theological Seminary of Decatur, GA and is beginning to be trained as a Spiritual Director through the Haden Institute in North Carolina. RevJule has served in a variety of professional ministry settings ranging from specialized ministry among children and families to adult ministry to solo pastorate work. She began writing almost before she could read and it was her way to connect deeply with God, others, and her truest self. RevJule currently enjoys creating weekly worship experiences and sermons for a congregation she is leading on a journey of self-re-definition. She enjoys teaching and connecting with others about matters of faith and life. She makes time almost daily for sitting quietly, being with her closest friends, walking her toy poodle Rufus, reading great books, and digging into the soil of whatever garden she can create. If you like what you are reading here, contact her to schedule a retreat or other spiritual formation experience for your faith community.

Today’s Wonder Workers

A Sermon for 12 May 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 9:32-43. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda (Líd-dah). There he found a man named Aeneas (Ah-knéé-ass), who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

“Now in Joppa (Jáh-pah) there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.”

            This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

A few years back, God threw me a curve ball when I was introduced to the energetic therapy called Healing Touch. There I was in total pain prior to a much-needed shoulder repair surgery, when a compassionate sister at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama asked if I might be open to receiving Healing Touch. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I figured if she could do anything to relieve the horrible pain in my shoulder, I was game! Before I knew it, I found myself learning all I could about this incredible healing modality where something as simple as touch has been scientifically measured to have powerful effects. A key principle of Healing Touch that’s taught from the start is to “delete the need to understand” (2010 HTI Healing Touch Certificate Program Level 1 Student Workbook, p. 25). Now, as a highly educated reverend-doctor of the church, deleting the need to understand certainly has been humbling. Like how is it possible that through something as simple as gentle hand passes close to, or actual touches on a person’s physical body, the energetic system of a person can be tremendously affected? Pain can be reduced. Anxiety can be lessened. Long-held emotion can be released. Someone going through the most horrific physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual difficulty can experience healing. Does the practitioner of Healing Touch understand how? No. Not really, though the more one practices, the deeper insight one will gain. The mantra drilled into anyone learning about such healing work is: “Delete the need to understand!” (Ibid.). Do the work anyway! This foundational principle of Healing Touch reminds that “if we have to understand before we do the work, we never will do the work” (Ibid.).

It seems a fitting foundation in reference to the work of Christ as well – especially in light of these healing stories by Peter in the early days after the resurrection of Christ as recorded in Acts of the Apostles. In fact, I wonder if the Risen Christ said just that to his first disciples: “Delete the need to understand. Do the work anyway!” ‘Cuz how can anyone make sense of a paralyzed man, bedridden for eight years, hearing: “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” (Acts 9:34)? And immediately he gets up? . . . And what of Tabitha, also called Dorcas in Greek, meaning a gazelle. Which indeed she must have been to her community: a beautiful creature who lived lightly among the rest of the disciples! What an incredible woman, we hear of according to this brief record of her on her deathbed in Joppa. One commentator points out that the words used for the widows who gather to show Peter the fine garments sown for them by Tabitha, use “the middle voice of the participle showed (which) indicates that the widows actually are wearing the clothes made for them by Tabitha, who also distributed (the clothes) among the most needy of the community in keeping with the community’s principle of shared goods” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Robert W. Wall, p. 429). That same commentator concludes that “her loss is felt more severely then; and her resuscitation is desired more keenly, because of the community’s responsibility for its needy widows” (Ibid.). Maybe Tabitha once heard her Lord say, “Delete the need to understand. Do the work anyway!” So, she got busy giving her greatest gifts for the life of those all around.

How many of us really understand? Truly? Think about it. When you speak a word that you hope will be a comfort to a despairing friend, do you have any idea really what impact that word might make upon them? When you share some of what you have with someone else who is hungry, or thirsty, or so lonely they can hardly stand it; do you have any idea really what that act might do to sustain their body, or mind, or spirt just for one more day until they make it through their greatest struggle? Do you really understand one bit what your presence here and in the every-day-walk of your life means to those around you? How your words, and actions, and gestures of kindness might impact another’s life for good in ways not even they might be able yet to see? . . . No. We really don’t. And we don’t need to. That’s the beauty of God’s Way – the path of embodying the full love of God a little bit more each day. We do not need to understand it all just to get up one more day and commit our everything to living in the like manner of Christ. We can just do it; trusting that God will bring the outcome that is for the greatest good of all. We can release our desired outcome to the One who alone understands. We can be the healing presence of the Risen Christ everywhere we put down our feet on this earth!

It’s how God’s works of wonder continue around us today. Some biblical commentators of these healings in Acts of the Apostles want to make the distinction that such incredible healings were only possible by the earliest disciples because, God just had loosed a power “in the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., Joseph Harvard, p. 426). And while that is true, it still is true that such power is at work in the world through those who yet embody the same love of God as shown in-full in Christ. Though our eyes may have grown dim to the sights, wonders still are worked all around us each day! God is acting now through us – to continue to bring new life in this world every day.

Tabitha found a way to use her gift of sewing so that not one widow in her community was found without clothes on their backs. Peter and the other apostles would tell stories far and wide of what they had witnessed and come to love in the One they followed to Jerusalem and beyond. What is it for you? What acts of love in this world fill your heart to overflowing and revive your spirit to face a new day? . . . If your heart wants to help children born into difficult circumstances get a chance to flourish in this world, maybe you could volunteer at H.G. Hill Middle School or at an afterschool program somewhere else. If being in the quiet of creation restores you, consider finding a way to invite others with you – especially those who are stressed to the brink in their life. If you don’t want anyone else ever to feel alone in a crisis, maybe you could ask to sit in the family waiting room at a hospital. If you love to write notes of encouragement, we have a weekly list in the bulletin of people of this church and beyond who need gracious expressions of care. God put each one of us here on this earth right now – to be about the works of wonder each of us alone is able to accomplish. You do not have to explain it to anyone else – not even to yourself. Just delete the need to understand, then do the work God has put you here to do! . . . It’s how God’s wonders continue today!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Breakfast on the Beach*

A Sermon for 5 May 2019 – Third Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 21:1-19. Listen for God’s word to us.

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Beaches are some of the most favored destinations in the world. To beaches people flock just to get away. Restore our souls. Relax with family and friends, or all on our own. What could be better than the warm sun on your shoulders? A gentle breeze on your face. The sound of the water lapping the shore as wave after wave races up the sand to tickle your toes. Lots of lessons are learned on beaches. Huge insights take place on beaches. Life-altering experiences happen on beaches. Ever feel lost and all alone? Head to the beach and let the sights, sounds, touch of Mother Nature revive as the Spirit of a mighty, gracious Creator wraps all around. Beaches. Beaches are marvelous spots!

It’s a funny little beach along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee that we hear of from the gospel of John this morning. Smooth, dark rocks cover the beach instead of the typical soft sand. The beach can’t be more than 100 feet wide – a little opening among tall grass along most of the shore of Galilee’s sea. Until a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years back, I had no idea it’s a hotly-sought spot named the Primacy of Peter. There, a simple little church building sits along the shore. Beautiful stained-glass windows that remind of dancing vibrant flames dot the sides of the basalt rock building. A massive limestone sits at the front of the chancel area then continues out the side of the chapel to face the sea. Mensa Christi a sign reads. Meaning: “the Table of Christ.” For here, on this very beach, it is believed the Risen Christ prepared a meal of fish and bread for his disciples.

Imagine the incredible scene on that beach – some two thousand years ago. Peter and a handful of other disciples: Thomas, Nathanael, Peter’s old fishing buddies James and John who were the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, one of which was who the gospel of John calls Jesus’ beloved disciple; all head to the beach. It was early in the a.m. – before the light of day peeked out. Perfect time for fishing any real fisherman would proclaim. As the gospel of John tells it, this would be the morning Peter got his grand direction: feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed by sheep, he’d be told. Follow me – no matter where the journey leads. Meanwhile, the little ban who had to be ready for a break after all they’d been through not just the last few weeks with Christ – but the past three years they literally had trekked all over the countryside with him. These seven disciples head back to the beach to what they know and love: fishing. Pushing out the boat. Letting down the nets. Hoping for a huge haul. Certainly, they’d say it wasn’t their lucky morning. Again and again the nets came up empty. Then, just about dawn, as the sun began to rise; someone’s standing on the beach. Shouting to try the nets on the other side of the boat. You know how when you’re really far from shore you squint to make out who it could be? The beloved disciple obviously had the best eyes and insight. For right after they pulled in overflowing nets, suddenly he exclaims: “It is the Lord!”

What I love best about this story is the way the Risen Christ has been busy building a beach bonfire. He wants to feed his friends! Scripture doesn’t tell us, but no doubt they’d gathered on the beach ‘round the fire before. Who knew Jesus was such a chef though, whipping up a delightful breakfast with just a few loaves and fish? Of course, according to the story, the disciples already knew what he could do with just a few loaves and a little fish. (Remember: the last time they saw him with fish and loaves, five thousand men plus women and children went home from a spot very close to this one, all filled up and with leftovers saved for later.) This breakfast on the beach wasn’t the first time he’d fed hungry folks. It is the first meal the gospel of John records that they shared together again after that Last Supper the night before his death. Now, I know eating is just a part of it – a routine thing done several times a day by those fortunate enough to have easy access to food. But this is no ordinary meal! Breakfast on the beach with the Risen Christ is a very big deal. Breakfast on the beach prepared by the Risen Christ is Eucharist. Thanksgiving. A gift of the great feast!

It’s striking, don’t you think, that according to the gospel of John; the Risen Christ cooks up breakfast right before he gives the command to go feed others? He’s not about to send out his first disciples until they are all filled up. The act of taking, breaking, giving. It’s the crucial reminder of God in our midst. The Risen One offering us food to eat because he knows – maybe like those silly Snickers candy bar commercials – that we’re not quite like ourselves until first we’ve gotten something to eat. We cannot go forth into the world taking our lives, breaking open our hearts, giving of our time, talents, and treasures if we haven’t first had our sustenance. It’s why the Table of Christ is so important. Why we’re invited to it again and again. About this story in the last chapter of the gospel of John, one biblical commentator writes: “If you are going to fulfill the mission entrusted to you, you will need the Risen Christ . . . feeding you.” The good news is that “the Risen Christ . . . continues to supply the strength and nurture we need for our lives and work” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Thomas H. Troeger, p. 423).

Maybe it’s through time we take each morning all on our own. Re-reading our favorite scriptures. Listening to beloved sacred songs. Maybe in the quiet of the late night right before we lay ourselves down to sleep, we nourish ourselves through reviewing when God felt close the past twenty-four hours. When we experienced Christ-like compassion from another or knew the forgiveness of our LORD. Maybe the Risen Christ has fed us by coming extra close in the beauty of God’s intricate creation. The diversity of brothers and sisters of this world who inspire us with their generosity and encourage us through their love. Maybe the Risen Christ has filled us up with the peace of knowing that we are deeply cherished as we are – like Peter, the disciple who three times denied, then three times re-declared his love right there on that beach beside the sea. Maybe it is in the bread and the fruit of the vine around another Table of Christ that we eat our fill to find ourselves nurtured. Revived. Ready to go forth to serve again!

Be it on a beach somewhere that you absolutely love, or at this Table of Christ here; we need the food the Risen Christ prepares. For then and only then can we go forth to offer sustenance to others. Tending the vulnerable. Following our loving Lord. May we never neglect to let the Risen Christ feed us. Fill us up. Daily. Then from the blessing of times just like that beach breakfast, let us go back out to love and serve like 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.)

*NOTE TO READERS:  the pic at the top of this blog is from the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the outdoor chapel at the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  Photo taken by JMN ~ March 2014.

 

Breathing the Spirit

A Sermon for 28 April 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter

Here we are the second Sunday during the 50-day season of Easter. And the gospel reading for today takes us to the night on which the tomb first was found empty. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading of John 20:19-31.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!

 

The Septuagint is the oldest translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. It’s believed to have been completed by 70 Jewish scholars about 300 or so years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is of note, according to biblical exegete Gregory A. Robbins, that the Greek word emphysao occurs just two times in the Septuagint (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, p. 399). We can find emphysao, the verb to breathe in Genesis 2. That beautiful second account of the creation story, which tells that when God made the earth – but before the rain had fallen to cause plants to spring up from the ground. The LORD God formed from the mud of the earth the body of the first human. One destined to work the soil, till the ground for the earth to produce all we would need for life. God shaped the head. Crafted the torso. Was wise enough to form fingers and feet and every miraculous part of our complicated systems. But before this creature could do anything – be anything: the LORD God exhaled right into the nostrils of that body barely separated yet from the ground. According to Genesis 2:7, God emphysao – God breathed the spirit of life, the breath that animates us, and, at last, the creature was alive! A living being able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design (Genesis 2:3-9).

Remember the great vision of the prophet Ezekiel? The people are exiled from their land. Cut off from the great Temple. Convinced all hope is lost. That the LORD God had abandoned them due to their wayward ways. As brittle as fallen fall leaves months after winter begins, like bones lying waste for decades under the brutal desert sun; the hearts of God’s people had shriveled up completely. Those that are left feel as good as dead – as if they’ll never be fully alive at home in the land of Israel ever again. In the vision to the prophet, God says speak Ezekiel. Tell them: I am the LORD God. And I will re-create! I will cause bones to re-connect. Tendons to grow again. Flesh will re-generate. And, at last, I will emphysao. I will breathe into you again, Ezekiel 37 reads. And you shall live. You shall know that the great I AM is LORD! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of all! I will act! God declares to the prophet. With the Breath, I will bring you back to Life! (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Then, on the first evening of Easter – the stone rolled from the tomb something like twelve hours earlier – a new collection of God’s people huddle. Hunkered down in a hid away room, they are locked together in fear. Just a few hours ago they enjoyed the sights and sounds of Easter: he is not here, he has risen! Look! The tomb is empty! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! How quickly the high of the good news fades and this new little ban of God’s people are frozen in their tracks. Afraid. For their own lives? For what a Risen Christ might command? The gospel isn’t entirely clear. We can only imagine what our own reactions to the first news of Easter might be. A silly tale. Some sort of trick – someone must have come to move away the life-less shell of Jesus’ body, we might think. Or maybe we’re more like Thomas, the Twin: ones who need the burden of our own proof. Sights, sounds, summons directly from the Risen Christ – not just stories someone else tells us to believe.

As many of us feel at the death of our loved ones – that mix of anguish for our loss – never to hold their hand in our own again. Yet so relieved their pain has come to an end – the difficulty of their last days turning to everlasting peace. Feeling just like that, maybe we too would have been locked away behind closed doors. Hearts wanting to hope, yet still wrung dry from the past three days of intense sorrow. When, at last, the Presence of the Risen Christ comes among us. The One we believe to be God-in-flesh. The First and Last. The Word exhaled like breath from the great Creator at the beginning of time – breathed into us again and again and again to bring us back to Life. The wounded, yet Risen One breaks right into the prisons in which we have locked ourselves away and speaks Peace! Peace be with you! He shows his wounds. As if to say that on our journey to become whole again, we’ve no need to hide our own either. For it is our wounds that are used most powerfully for God to work. Then, as our broken hearts begin to mend, emphysao! The Risen Christ breathes upon the devoted ones filling us up with the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life, the Breath that animates us. To become Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design!

This week I’ve been meditating upon the beautiful blessings of the amazingly creative Rev. Jan Richardson in the book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Her blessings for Holy Saturday and Easter morn’ remind how important is the Breath. How significant the truth that God breathes in us. Listen to this “Blessing for a Broken Vessel, for Holy Saturday.” And hear it two ways at once: as words for the wounded, waiting body of our Crucified Lord; and as words for the wounded places in us. The blessing goes: “Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole. It lives deep in your bones. It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times. It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again” – shew! Right there! In our lungs: the pattern of Christ’s Way. The fullness of living God’s purpose for us. The emptying that comes as we serve – as we exhale to give ourselves away like Christ. And the fullness that comes again – the rising that God causes after we empty ourselves like Christ! Richardson goes on to write: “I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you, but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined, that you have never dared to dream.” (pp. 144-5).

Emphysao! The Holy Spirit of God breathed into us, as into those first frightened disciples. To re-create us into a new pattern we never have dared to dream! How amazing that in God’s infinite wisdom, our very own lungs remind of the Presence of the One wanting to work through us! The Spirit – the Wind, Jesus one time called it. The Advocate, he’s recorded as saying as well. The Breath of God that connects us all. That commands us all to Live! Truly Live. Speaking peace, like our Savior and Lord. Forgiving sins, like a merciful father. Going out into the world to be about the very same work as Jesus: healing hurts, restoring hope, setting free for abundant new life! We cannot do it on our own. The gifts we have. The talents. Our own sheer force of will. None of it ever will be enough to be about the work of the Risen Christ. Unless God breathes in us. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes through us, we cannot do anything. Cannot be anything. Without emphysao, we will not be Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design. Remember that the very next time you inhale. Then exhale. Then inhale again. It is God breathing in us that empowers us to live Christ’s Way each day!

Glory be to the amazing life-giving Father, life-redeeming Son, and life-sustaining Spirit! Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Looking for the Risen Christ

A Sermon for 21 April 2019 – Easter Sunday!

A reading from the gospel of Luke 24:1-12. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading about the first Easter morning. Listen.

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to (the apostles) an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

The gospel of Luke presents a curious telling of the first Easter morn. For in this gospel and this one alone, a question is posed to the dutiful women who go early to the tomb. They’re asked: “Why do you look for the Living among the dead?” On one level we know why they look. All of the gospels put the women who were disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross. Though Peter and the others may or may not have been there, the women are. They see with their own eyes what had been done to Jesus. They watch and wail. They see him take his last breath – rendering his spirit into the hands of God. When Joseph of Arimathea comes to bury his body; the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke name the woman as there. Still watching. Still grieving. Still wanting to provide for the needs of the One who had become their teacher, mentor, friend. The One who had accepted them and gave them a special place in the circle of his disciples as the women too found the purpose of their lives transformed for the furtherance of their Lord’s mission. Why, according to the gospel of Luke, are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them at the tomb at the break of light the first day of the week – after the Passover Sabbath had come to an end and it was time to go properly anoint the body of their crucified Lord? They’re there out of great love, of course. For that’s what we do when we lay our cherished ones to rest. After the final funeral casserole is gone and we’re left without all the bustle of sympathizers who have come to offer their support, we return to the grave to ensure the marker properly has been placed. We say our prayers, brush away the stray dirt. We return to the spot we last saw our beloved – wanting just to be in their presence again.

On another level the question to the women at the empty tomb is curious. Because if they’d been listening, wouldn’t they have expected to find the Living One among the dead? That’s where he’d always been. For wasn’t this the One who declared about himself at the beginning of his ministry – as recorded in the gospel of Luke – that “The Spirit of the LORD” was upon him? Because he had been anointed to bring good news to the poor. He had been sent to proclaim release to captives. He was here to recover the sight of those who were blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the time of God’s favor. Wasn’t this the One, the women knew, who had gone about his days cleansing lepers, who were as good as dead? Healing those who whose lives seemingly had become useless? Wasn’t this the One who taught a whole different Way than the death-tolling fend-for-yourself – use-force-if-you-must way that was being promoted in the culture all around them? Wasn’t this the One calling to his cause the most unlikely of folks? Fishermen far from the halls of Jerusalem’s great Temple. Despised tax collectors like Zacchaeus. Even women and other outsiders. Wasn’t this the One who spent his time among those good as dead bringing them back to Life with a touch of his powerful hand? A nod of welcome in his circle? A summons to follow in the Way of self-giving love? I realize that the messengers at the empty tomb wanted the women to know the Living One had been raised; he was no longer there. But where else really would the Risen Christ be than among those still needing Life?

Easter asks us to look – to keep our eyes open for the presence of the Risen Christ. And to remember where best to find the Living One. In the places where we are broken. Among the people still needing release. We’ll find the Risen Christ where bread is broken and the fruit of the earth poured out – especially for those who are hungry to eat. We’ll find the Risen Christ where bodies are healed and spirits are calmed. We’ll find the Risen Christ still where outsiders are welcomed. And those blinded by the ways of this world finally, at last, see. We’ll find the Risen Christ where all hope seems gone – after devastating loss when we come to one another to offer an empathetic ear, a helping hand, a sense that no one will have to walk alone. Everywhere any still are as good as dead, the Risen Christ will be. Working through us, working in us, sometimes even working in spite of us to bring new Life for all.

This is the mission. We’re invited to come follow. Until, at last, Life is all that’s left. Risen Life alongside the Living One!

Alleluia! And Amen!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Revealed in Prayer

A Sermon for 31 March 2019

The gospel reading for today takes us to the night of Maundy Thursday. We hear of the last recorded time when Jesus sought the solace of prayer – out in the garden of Gethsemane. The fate-filled night one of his own would lead the authorities out to arrest him. Listen for God’s word to us in a reading of Luke 22:39-46.

“Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.] 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

 

Picture this: it’s 1955 in a village in Kenya when a 6-year-old boy is abandoned by his family. Left to join the daily grind of thousands of other children, this boy named Charles becomes a street child. Fortunate enough to beg his way through primary education, once this little boy grew to be 16, he became a Christian; then set out to walk nearly fifty miles to the city of Nairobi – something that too him 3 ½ days. This one obviously had smarts. A big heart filled with dreams. And enough determination to turn his life upside down. Finding a job in the city, he saved up enough money to buy his first car. Then another. And another until he eventually had become a wealthy business man owning an entire transportation fleet. His rags to riches story is absolutely inspiring. But no one in the world ever would have heard of him if it hadn’t been for an encounter he had in 1986. Parking his car on a street in Nairobi that day, several teenage street boys stopped him to beg for money. Whether too proud to remember his own roots, or too stubborn to give away any of his hard-earned cash; the boys quickly surrounded what looked to them a shiny, successful, rich man. Charles quickly walked away; but when he returned, his fancy car was gone. Charles was filled with rage. The faces of those boys were burned in his anger. He reports being in emotional turmoil for several years – his life embroiled in a mix of anger, sympathy, and guilt. Until the morning of November 17, 1989. Driving in another fancy Mercedes; he pulled to the side of the road somewhere and spent the next several hours wracked with anguish. He claims there no longer was any peace in his life. The faces of those boys still prominent in his mind, Charles cried out: “God, what is it you want me to do?” According to Charles, it was in the fourth hour that he finally heard a response. He heard: “I gave you everything. I raised you from nowhere and I gave you all of this.” By then, Charles’ fortune was in the millions. The voice said: “Now, I want to take everything that you have and give it to the poor.” Charles reports he didn’t leave that car until at last he said: “Yes LORD. I will do it!” Filled with immense joy, Charles drove home to tell his wife and eight children that he had good news for them. He told them: “I will not work anymore for money. I want to give everything for the poor.” He was determined to become, in the words of the Psalms, the father to the fatherless. The very next day, he liquidated all he had; then went to the streets to find the first three abandoned children he would rescue. Thirty years later, Charles and Esther Mulli have built 6 orphanages in Kenya and Tanzania, they have been father and mother to over 10,000 street children – raising about 1,000 at a time in their own home when the first started. They have rescued 10 failing schools and built many other centers across their nation. Today Mully Children’s Family has been saving children’s lives in their self-sustaining work to transform the lives of children who once had no hope. Wanna learn more about what can be revealed in prayer? Go to mullychildrensfamily.org to watch Mully, the Movie. Be sure to have tissues nearby as your own heart is certain to overflow with the joy of seeing such inspirational Christian service! (Sources:https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fyoutu.be%2FluMzrgBDAS8&data=02%7C01%7C%7C79a50e3ffc7441acec5708d6b3b69176%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636893994029006157&sdata=HuEECyHIHvi2uC7Iv8SxOrxiYYZkhWmGWOf7tw647Xw%3D&reserved=0 ; The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, “Visions of God,” Season 3, episode 3. First aired 19 March 2019; and www.mullychildrensfamily.org).

A simple prayer. God, what is it you want me to do? A willing heart. A world changed one life at a time.

Jesus goes from an upper room one night into a beautiful garden. We’ve a tendency to read the gospels as if Jesus knew all along the way exactly what was going to happen to him. Maybe he did. Certainly, he was wise enough to see that if you’re going to live faithful in the struggle against injustice and oppression, there will be struggle. There will be suffering. Sacrifices will come. Because we know the possible consequences for standing against what kills, Jesus in the garden reminds us to seek God’s strength in prayer. To keep ourselves open to faithfulness. To be reminded: God is with us always inviting us deeper into the dance of Life. I love the conclusion of one commenting on the story of Jesus at prayer in Gethsemane. The commentator writes: “God wills that injustice and oppression be opposed . . . The reality is, then and now, that to stand steadfastly against injustice and oppression is to invite the opposition of powerful forces. . . . (Thus) Jesus prays for the strength and courage to witness to the justice, righteousness, and peace that God wills. If this means facing deadly opposition, so be it” (Feasting on the Gospels, Luke Vol. 2; J. Clinton McCann Jr., p. 293). In prayer, it is revealed to him to go forward in peace. Centered in the strength of God despite what comes. In essence, Jesus is praying in that garden: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” The gospel accounts all agree that initially Jesus was asking for something else to happen. “Remove this cup, if you are willing,” the gospel of Luke reports Jesus prays (paraphrase of Luke 22:42). In anguish. Until at last he cries out: “not my will, but Thine. God, what do you want to do through me today?”

We’ve all be invited during this season of Lent to be praying this daily prayer: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” It’s the prayer of our Grateful for the Past; Renewing for the Future campaign and as we can see, it’s the prayer to be prayed each day by a faithful follower of Christ. “God, what do you want to do through me today?” . . . The other day two of us visited Martha and Olivia. By the way, they said we could tell this story – we even caught it on video for everyone to see. A member of our Prayer Team had taken Martha and Olivia a prayer rock – which they absolutely love. Olivia said that when Martha first got it; she held it in her hands, read the prayer aloud: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” And said: God wants me to smile! If you know Martha, you know that she’s such a delight with a warmth that welcomes the whole neighborhood! The other day when we were there; she held the rock, read the prayer aloud: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” And instantly replied: Behave! We all got a great laugh at that! ‘Cuz even in her advancing years, Martha’s still got that spit fire in her that needs a little reminder now and again to behave!

I’ve enjoyed reading what some of the rest of you have noticed so far as you already have been praying: “God, what do you want to do through me today?” One of you has noticed something specific about your ministry here. How what had been really difficult news about a building repair became way more encouraging when a trusted company provided an additional quote. That’s a huge relief for us all as we seek to take good care of this facility for ministry to continue to take place from this building. Another who has been praying “God, what do you want to do through me today?” has been reminded that even with 100 children and staff downstairs in Playcare every day, and weekly Yoga and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional families meeting upstairs; this building could be bustling with some other daily neighborhood ministry. Won’t it be interesting to hear how that prayer continues to unfold? Another who has been praying daily “God, what do you want to do through me today?” has noticed a new boldness to stand up against injustice. They’ve noticed – as has someone else praying the prayer – being moved to be more forgiving and loving. They’ve even noticed being moved to be a more faithful follower as they consider ways to deepen their giving to this church. Someone praying “God, what do you want to do through me today?” reports that as they have prayed this prayer, suddenly – abruptly – new ways to serve others have happened! Another has noticed shifts in their monthly financial responsibilities that have created new room in their budget to support the capital campaign. One praying daily “God, what do you want to do through me today?” is finding that the prayer is making them more mindful of God in their life. It is absolutely beautiful to see what is revealed when God’s people enter into prayer together.

Maybe none of us will end up hearing that we are to become father to the fatherless. Maybe none of us will experience the wrath of powerful forces unleashed upon us as we seek to stand up for God’s justice, righteousness, and peace. Maybe we won’t hear much – the timing in our lives not quite right. Or the silence exactly what we need to experience in the midst of overly busy days. We are invited to pray. Just pray. “God, what do you want to do through me today?” Then, every few days, check in. Review what’s happening in our lives and in the lives of those around us so that we can notice what is taking place.

Revealed in our prayers through our willing hearts. It’s so exciting to see how a world is being changed one life at a time!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

The Golden Plan

A Sermon for 17 March 2019 – Second Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 13:31-35. Listen for God’s word to us.

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This second Sunday in the season of Lent with the gospel’s foxes and brood and the hen with wonderfully, healing wings; it seems a good time for a little something different. So, listen to a story for Lent. It comes from the children’s book written by Walter Wangerin, Jr. and it’s called “Branta and the Golden Stone.” Listen.

Branta is a little girl, living out in the middle of no where in the Northern-most region of the world where it is absolutely freezing! Winds whip down from the northern seas to send an unbearable chill immediately up your spine. Branta, sadly, finds herself alone one winter when her ancient father – her only connection to the human world – dies. But before he leaves his dear daughter, he gives her a gift. He tells her the secret of his stone; a golden stone he has harbored for years. With it, people are changed. The powerful golden stone makes a person whatever they wanted to be. Sick suddenly are healthy. Blind eyes at last can see. A farmer becomes rain to water his fields in abundance. An angry man turns to fire to burn up his enemy’s house. People are changed by the power of the stone all right. Both for good and ill. The moment before his final breath, Branta’s father warns that she must be extremely careful with this golden stone. The change is incredibly costly. For you see, the change is irreversible: absolutely no going back. “Beware,” Branta is told. Whatever a person becomes by the power of the golden stone, she will stay that way forever.

Isolated upon the death of her dad – no neighbors anywhere in sight, Branta eventually is accompanied by a new arrival. One day a delightful duo of geese grace Branta’s solitude. O how she welcomes her new companions – even if they’re just geese. After all, humans and geese are so very different. They aren’t able properly to communicate with one another. Branta never could get too close. Regardless, the geese offer the company of another life. Branta enjoys the geese: watching them, listening to their gaba-gaba squawking, seeing them soar in the air. Branta grows to love her new feathered friends. As spring sprints on, the two quickly multiplied to eight! Six sweet goslings gaba-gaba-gabbing on and on. A whole goose family. What fun! . . . But winter can come in an instant in Branta’s northern hinterland. And so it is one night when summer abruptly dies and a storm tears in from nowhere. The north wind blows. The ground freezes. Heavy snow heaves itself upon the earth. For two days Branta cuddles in her cozy cabin. She’s gotta survive the storm. Still, all she can imagine is her precious pals caught unawares and now withering in the wintry blast. Finally, bundling up, she takes off outside to find them. She’s convinced herself that she’ll coax the geese into the shelter of her heated home. . . . Picture the scene: frantically the gallant girl is trying to wave the perishing geese toward the warmth. But filled with fright, they run further from their only shot at survival. Eight freezing geese – perhaps aware of the perilous wintry winds – are terrified of the alien intruder. They just don’t get it that she’s trying to lead them to life. What in the world is a determined little girl to do?

It isn’t geese but chicks Jesus chats about that day. His course has been set on Jerusalem. He travels with firm resolve. It might be helpful to remember that Jerusalem, named the city of peace, had become the seat bed of power for the Jews of Jesus’ day. A conflicted place, however, what with Rome ruling right over the Temple to ensure no one tried to rebel against the foreign oppressors. Collusion with Rome in order to keep on practicing the faith has grown common. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad with the religion of Jesus and his people. Rather, as always has been the tendency; playing into a system of dominance, fear, might for the sake of worldy gain has seeped into the water. Too many in Jerusalem – religious leaders and Rome alike have lost the Way. Resolutely, Jesus has set his face to go there – into the halls of power. In order to attempt a course correction. . . . What happens one day is that somewhere still in Galilee, a handful of Pharisees approach. Their intentions are not to harm. Rather this group gives the warning. It seems Herod – the ruler of the region – has it in for Jesus. He wants him dead – perhaps his head also on a platter as was the conclusion for the dear John the Baptist. Some friendly Pharisees fear a fatal end for Jesus so they set out to curb his path. But Jesus will not be deterred. Onward to Jerusalem he goes. For he knows his purpose; the God in whom he trusts. Content to speak God’s truth to worldly power, Jesus simply says, “Go and tell that fox: he may think he’s got the ability to interrupt God’s plan. But listen: I am continuing my work of casting out demons, performing cures, and on the third day I’ll be done” (Luke 13:32). Determined. He’s absolutely sure of the mission.

Remember the mission? For a long time God has been trying – tirelessly trying to gather God’s brood. It’s an awesome Old Testament image to which Jesus attests. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). Once we have a little bit of the world’s ways, it’s hard to give them up. A plethora of prophets were sent. You’d think exile in unknown lands might have gotten their attention or at least the restoration thereafter. The cycle keeps happening again – as it has in the history of the church, the generations gone before, right up to the ways we ourselves can continue to go astray. . . . Look at it from God’s view: as if we were those vulnerable baby chickens. Those fuzzy little fluff balls. So tiny. So fragile. Oodles of us – curious little chicks scattered this way and that; winding way out of the barnyard. Far from mother hen – and the shelter of her wings. Can you smell the big bad wolf lurking in the shadows? Ready to snatch the little, lost ones in an instant. Momma hen would be in a panic! . . . That’s exactly how it goes. God births the brood of Israel for God’s very self – a light to shine in the nations for all to come to know. But no sooner is the covenant constructed, than the children go astray. It seems so in our nature that we willfully wander far out into the wild. Suddenly we’re easy prey for all sorts of predators. We ignore God’s commands that were given to us to ensure communal bliss. Our selfish actions give rise to division. Too often we live in whatever manner we wish – no matter how far from our Creator our actions take us. We’re as oblivious to the danger as are the good God-fearers of Jesus’ day. What in the world is a gracious God to do?!!!

Back in the cabin, the storm still raging outside, Branta searches diligently for that stone. “If only I can grab it,” she wishes. “Become a goose myself. Perhaps putting on their very same size and shape; the same white markings on my throat and that exact black beak.” Branta rationalizes to herself: “if I become one of them I can speak their gaba-gaba language.” Then maybe her precious geese pals will trust her enough to follow where she leads – right back home to shelter from the storm. . . . Would you believe it? The plan works. Holding the golden stone in her human hand, Branta speaks her desire: “I want to be a goose,” she says. Next thing you know she’s flapping majestic wings. Sporting that sleek neck. Waddling away. The little girl literally becomes one of them: a goose – gone forever her human ways – quite a cost for sure. But a sacrifice she willingly makes because she knows it’s the only shot she has at leading her beloved friends to safety. Sure enough, as soon as the geese – near-death without protection from the blizzard – as soon as they hear in their own language: “Gaba-gaba gather. Gaba-gaba Get up. Gaba-gaba Go. Go into the warmth of the cabin.” As soon as they see one just like them pointing to the path, immediately they heed. It’s like a lightbulb suddenly goes on. “Oh, okay. If YOU say so!” Eight otherwise doomed geese and one little goose-girl survive the storm together!

Do you wonder what will happen with God’s willful, wandering brood? How in the world so many lost, little chicks will be pointed down the path? Led back to the shelter of momma hen’s wings? One way: one high-priced way. Someone will have to become a chick like the rest. To lead the whole lot. . . . Jesus is born into the world. He grows. He begins the mission to show the Way. But so infinitely many are a part of this brood. As soon as one is brought to safety, ten more seem gone for good. Unlike Branta’s story; for us it takes a continuous process to gather such a huge flock. . . . And so it goes that those who have been found – having learned the Way home – are expected to enter the enterprise. Despite potential danger. The found chicks go from the shelter of momma’s wings in search of others. Learning to speak their language. We point the Way home. It’s a grand communal effort initiated at high expense. But tell me: what else is a God of grace to do?

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Wilderness Testing

A Sermon for 10 March 2019 – 1st Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:1-13. On this first Sunday in the season of Lent, we hear the gospel of Luke’s version of what happened to Jesus right after he was baptized. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the LORD your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown states: “Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians always have used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials, to a refuge of nature and beauty where we seek space for contemplation.” Brown writes: “What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest” (Braving the Wilderness, 2017; p. 36).

I think of Dr. Brown’s work when we hear the reading from the gospel of Luke put before us today. For what else are we looking upon in the story of Jesus after his baptism, than his very vulnerable encounter during his very real emotional, physical, spiritual quest? Each year we begin the season of Lent with Jesus in the wilderness. Long has the Church looked upon this text as the perfect place for our attention on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. We’ve just entered the time in the liturgical calendar when we begin a more fervent listening and watching and learning how best we can follow as disciples of the Christ – all the way to Jerusalem and beyond. Lent is our time to willingly stand with Jesus in the wilderness – not only to see what he encounters there, but also to be taught our own need for wilderness. The like-it-or-not time we must face in order to be who God would have us be.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brown is using the metaphor of wilderness to present her research and lived findings on what she calls “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone” (Ibid.). Which sounds exactly like Jesus, doesn’t it? Brown is talking about living so entirely as your true self that you belong not to the voices that surround from culture, family, ego, and even religious institutions. Wilderness is Brown’s understanding of, what Carl Jung defined as, being our capital S Self – the wholeness of Self that regulates our center. That inside, which “some speak of . . . as the God within or the Christ-within” (Unopened Letters from God, Robert L. Haden, Jr., 2010). The Divine Spark that animates us to live our best selves. Biblical commentators might say: wilderness is where – and when – we live as the authentic creation God made of us at our start. Before we forgot and got entangled in the mess of how this world too often goes. In my reading of it – especially according to the gospel of Luke, I would say that wilderness is where we must wrestle any other influences – the demons within and without – in order to authentically be who God created us to be.

Dr. Brown reminds that wilderness is “an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching” – surely Jesus knew that, not only from his first forty days there, but from the many times, according to the gospel of Luke, when Jesus deliberately returned to wilderness. When he stole away as often as he could to return to time alone with God. Brown writes: wilderness “is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness,” Brown states, can feel “unholy because we can’t control it . . . but it turns out to be the place of true belonging.” The bravest, most sacred place we ever will stand (Braving the Wilderness, p. 36). The place of honest integrity before God – honoring our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer – as Jesus did in the wilderness. Being so firmly resolved to trust the One he often called Abba, heavenly Father.

Unlike the other gospels which claim that immediately after his baptism Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, the gospel of Luke uniquely claims that “full of the Holy Spirit” Jesus “returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). Instead of an emphasis of the Holy Spirit seizing him in his baptism to lead him out there to withstand alone whatever would come, the gospel of Luke focuses us upon the Spirit’s role with Jesus the entire time, when he seemingly went to the wilderness as a voluntary act. Which might leave us wondering if the gospel of Luke is emphasizing that like our need for a deepening of connection with God during Lent, Jesus too needed a time alone to hear what was to come. To listen for what it all meant that he’d just heard The Voice declare in his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22b). To have the opportunity to choose – to sort out the ramifications of the message of his baptism. Like his ancestors who are recorded as having wandered forty years in their own experience of testing in order to reveal their true selves. We’ve got to wonder if the wilderness will strengthen Jesus’ resolve to move out to be who God has made him to be. Will he choose acceptance of and obedience to The Voice? Will he emerge ready to unite himself fully with his authentic, true self? So that even when the most difficult challenge was to come – one night about three years later in a garden outside Jerusalem, Jesus still could be found praying: “Not my will be done, LORD, but yours” (Luke 22:42). In advance, wilderness shows if the Beloved faithfully will be the Beloved, or not.

I love the words in Braving the Wilderness that Dr. Brown quotes from a friend who is a religious leader in a Christian community that is known for lacking full inclusivity. Of wilderness, Brown’s excluded friend says she has discovered that “the wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers always have lived, and it is stunningly vibrant.” She writes, “the walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life” (p. 152). For belonging so fully to the Self we discover God has made us to be, ends up linking us fully with all the others devoted too to being their true Selves. Those who cannot not live as God has created, called, and sustained them to be! In other words: it’s best we remember that no matter how difficult wilderness can be, it is entirely worth it! Just ask Jesus. What would his life among us have been had he not relied upon and lived in full the Way The Voice had called? Had Jesus not lived his authentic self, no one ever would have gone on to proclaim his name! No 5,000 plus fed on just five loaves and a few fish. No impassioned plea to follow after him. No bread broken and fruit of the vine outpoured as sign and seal of a God of infinite grace. No death at the hands of his enemies. No resurrection in power from a grave. No Life everlasting offered for all forever, Amen!

One biblical commentator writes: “In Luke 3:21 – 4:13, we see that the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus in baptism and his faithfulness to God amid testing constitute Jesus’ preparation for his mission. (For) being chosen and anointed is not sufficient preparation either for our ministry gathered or for our ministry scattered.” The commentator writes: “We must be tested, often by being led to places of hunger and despair. Only then do we learn dependence on God, who graciously provides for all of our needs in all of life’s seasons” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr., p. 44).

Brothers and sisters of Christ, especially during Lent; wilderness is where we belong – in our lives individually and in our life together. For in wilderness the Spirit is with us. The tests provide opportunity to choose. Jesus knows it’s difficult and that we could so easily lose the Way. But wilderness forces us really to finally, fully rely upon God. To wrestle with all the other voices until we too earnestly pray as our Savior and Lord has taught, saying: “Not our will, but Thy will be done, O God!” . . . Grateful for one another and all vibrantly alive out there, let us embrace wilderness in order to be who God would have us be.

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

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