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.

How Healing Happens

A Sermon for 1 July 2018

 

A reading from the gospel of Mark 5:21-43.  Listen for God’s word to us as we continue our way through the gospel of Mark’s version of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christ.  Listen.

“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.  And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”  31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  32 He looked all around to see who had done it.  33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?”  36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  40 And they laughed at him.  Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”  42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).  At this they were overcome with amazement.  43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

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

 

This week, Jesus is back in the boat.  Returning from deliberately crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  If we remember that the boat has been a symbol of the Church since the earliest days of Christianity, then our ears perk as we hear Mark’s record that Jesus is back in the boat.  Take note:  what’s about to take place is what happens when Christ is amid the Church.  No sooner does the bow of the boat touch shore, than an important leader of the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet.  His little girl is dying.  Jairus is desperate.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people like Jairus – even felt myself what he certainly must have been experiencing to fling himself unashamedly at the feet of one in his land who had become known as an incredibly gifted healer.  Frantic in despair.  Totally afraid.  Overcome with grief over the pain in his family – the worry of Jairus’ wife, the wasting body of his pre-teen daughter.  Hopes and dreams being dashed with each labored breath as Jairus and his family watch their young girl’s seemingly helpless struggle.  I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this room as one who has been in – or who has watched a love one endure excruciating physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual pain.  From parents grieving the loss of their still born baby, to middle-aged adults falling out of love on their way to a bitter divorce, to young people telling how they can’t have anything more to do with their childhood church’s oppressive belief system of hate disguised in the name of love, to those who have joined their lives for decades having to let go as their spouse slowly slips away.  Human pain has the potential to break us open so that we cry out in desperation:  “O LORD, make us well!”

With so much pain around us in the world.  So many ways we are inflicting physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dis-ease on one another today, the stories from Mark’s gospel about a healing story within a healing story come at just the right time.  Not only must we remember that healing happens, but it’s also a good time to remember how healing takes place today.

Likely you know that healing is a complex thing.  It doesn’t happen according to our expectations.  We tend to be quite focused on fixes.  Thinking God is more like a skilled surgeon who can cut out what we don’t want before sewing things up good as new.  One commentator of Mark’s fifth chapter writes:  “I have a friend, a man of deep faith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was still in his fifties.  He and his wife prayed that he might be healed.  Twenty years later, he is in the last debilitating stages of the disease.”  The commentator goes on to write:  “Nevertheless, (my friend) once told me that his prayers had been answered.  He said in all sincerity, ‘I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease, but I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease’” (Michael L. Lindvall, Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 3; pp. 188, 190).  What a wonderful reminder that healing does happen.  Just not always as we might expect!

Healing doesn’t happen on our time schedule either.  While it’s true that healing can happen instantly as it did for the hemorrhaging woman when she stole a touch of the Master Healer’s cloak.  Full healing can take a very long time.  After all, it was 12 years that the woman who was hemorrhaging sought healing before the miraculous moment with Jesus finally took place.  Healing can feel elusive all a life long.  Recently a friend told me that in prayer a few weeks ago, she heard the voice of her father.  She gave me permission to share her experience today.  I knew my friend’s father had died several years ago, so it was quite a shock to hear her explain how she unexpectedly heard him say:  “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.”  My 70-year-old friend has been trying for about the past fifty years to heal from the deep wound caused by her father’s molestation of her during her childhood.  As she told me of the freedom she finally felt after his words came to her out of nowhere during those moments of prayer, I noted the date it happened was Fathers’ Day, just a few weeks ago.  It’s a sure reminder that healing comes in many forms.  And just when you think it’ll never happen, a voice in a prayer might be all it’ll take.  Indeed, healing is incredibly inexplicable!

It’s important for us to remember too that healing happens through us.  On Tuesday this week, I was surprised to be so inspired at a called Presbytery meeting.  A young woman of Northern Ireland who is being ordained by us as a chaplain for a local women’s addiction recovery center was asked what wisdom she could bring to our land from her experience of being raised in a country where Roman Catholics and Protestants long had been in a bitter, violent divide.  Eloquently she told the story of her father, who is a police officer and life-long Presbyterian.  She explained that she didn’t know that checking under your car before getting in it wasn’t something every other child in the world grew up doing.  But because her father was a police officer and the militant IRA often used to target crimes against police and their families, it was a regular part of her childhood.  She told that she didn’t know all the solutions to ancient divides between people because of religion, race, or any other reason we are encouraged by power to keep ourselves separated from those we perceive to be different.  What she did know was the devoted friendship of her father’s police partner:  a Catholic man who served alongside him most all of his adult life.  As a child she watched her Presbyterian Protestant father and her father’s Catholic police force partner daily have each other’s back.  Getting to know one another’s fears, hopes, and heartbreaks as they spent hours together on patrol.  Building a relationship of trust despite the outer pressures of their land that sought to tear them apart.  Connection like that with another – especially those we perceive to be different than ourselves was the wisdom she shared with us this week.  For that’s how healing happens.  Bringing us back together in the bonds of common humanity no matter what other labels we might wear.

I’ve heard of healing happening when at last one speaks their truth.  Sometimes received immediately with grace.  Sometimes forcing another finally to face their buried pain.  I’ve heard of healing happening when the insular bubble in which one has been living at last is broken.  New options visible.  Fresh vistas unfolding like a magic road appearing below one’s feet.  I’ve seen long-held family difficulties carried differently so that others’ pain is tenderly acknowledged too.  I’ve seen people learn to live from the disease of cancer – a dear friend beating the odds after surgical removal by seeking natural alternatives to follow up treatments.   She’s now the most vibrant, health-conscious person I’ve ever met.  I know of people who seem to heal a little bit at a time – like layers being peeled from an onion.  Some days better than others.  And just when they thought it was finished, a little bit more is released.  I’ve seen people healed not just in body, but in mind and spirit too after near fatal accidents.  Sometimes thanks to modern medicine and sometimes from treatments as old as the earth itself.  I’ve seen people have no idea how they will get through until day after day, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, wincing every so often when the wound again aches; until at last they find a new stride – one of deeper wisdom and greater grace for others.  Healing happens.  Mysteriously in ways we can’t ever anticipate.  And I think about Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter.  Can you image the life she went on to lead after that day when her father begged Jesus to help?  It’s been written that “this little girl was raised from death to become a woman.  It was not yet the final victory.  She was raised to die again.  But she could live as one that knew death would not have the last word” (Allen Verhey, Feasting on the Gospels:  Mark, p. 156).  Healed, she became God’s vessel of hope for a deeply wounded world.  After all, that’s how healing happens.  One person after another.  In ways we’d rarely expect.  No matter how long it takes.  Until at last all peoples are free.  All divisions at their end.  Every tear wiped away as mourning gives way to dancing.  Today, tomorrow, and forever.  May it ever be.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Boating with Jesus

A Sermon for 24 June 2018

 

A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:35-41.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  Other boats were with him.  37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

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

 

A few years ago, I was on a boat.  Growing up on Lake Michigan, I’d often been on our boat.  Fishing with dad.  Messing around summer afternoons with my sister as we rowed out beyond second sandbar.  Relaxing with friends in the quiet offshore.  Boats are nothing new to me – likely they’re not to some of you too.  Canoes.  House Boats.  Ocean liners.  I’ve pretty much experienced them all.  The boat I was on in 2014 was not only unexpected.  It ended up to be kinda ironic.  I was on a pilgrimage as the culmination of my work for a Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation through Columbia Seminary.  We were in the Holy Land.  Staying in a wonderful inn in the city of Tiberias.  When we loaded the bus one morning, we drove north then east to the entrance of a boat launch.  We walked through a museum housing the remains of a First Century fishing boat which at last was recovered from the sea in 1986.  Finally, we got ourselves on board the much sturdier, modern tour boat.  The captain powered up the motor.  And away we went for a ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Never before had I been to the Holy Land.  On the other side of the world.  Reflecting with every step upon story after story I had known since I was young.  It was amazingly eye-opening to actually see the places the stories mentioned:  Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Jerusalem, and, of course, the Sea of Galilee around which Jesus spent so much of his ministry.  I’ll never forget that Galilee boat ride.  Because no sooner did we get out into the middle of what seemed to me to be a pretty small lake; after all, it’s nothing like Lake Michigan where all you see is sandy beaches and blue water the whole way to the horizon.  But there we were.  In the middle of that eight-mile-wide lake alongside Tiberias when the wind switched.  Dark clouds rolled in.  And a storm overtook the sea.  Moments before my fellow pilgrims had been standing at the boat’s edge, looking to Tiberias on one end of the sea, Capernaum on another, the southern side of the lake from which the Jordan River flows, the eastern cliffs believed to be the spot the demon-possessed pigs jumped off into the sea.  Then suddenly the wind whipped up.  The waves thrashed about.  The rain pounded down upon us and that little boat.  The captain was panicked.  Barking orders for us to sit down fast.  He did a 180 to promptly cut our sea cruise short – worried not so much about our safety, but of the fate of his livelihood; his precious touring boat.  Inching ever so slowly through the chopping water in hopes we’d make it safely back to shore, we were presented with a few moments to ponder just what it must have been like to be out there on a boat much smaller and more fragile than our captain’s sturdy vessel.  According to the story as record in the gospel of Mark:  in the middle of night.  After a long day of hearing story upon story about God’s kingdom.  Only to find Jesus – the charismatic teacher who had been inspiring his little ban of followers – snug in the stern.  Asleep in the back of the boat!

Boats offer intriguing experiences, wouldn’t you say?  What could be better than speeding across the water, skimming the wake, escaping the heat of summer – good friends and family all around?  Boats offer the tranquility of lazily floating down a river.  Or cruising a mighty ocean.  Boats can be as simple as a single-person kayak, as tough as an industrial barge, or as sleek as an elegant yacht.  It’s hard to escape others once you step foot upon a boat.  From the steadiness needed by all in a little row boat to the teamwork it requires to sail one from shore to shore.  Even the largest ship reminds we’re all in it together if suddenly something like an iceberg buckles the starboard side.

Almost from the beginning, boats have been a symbol of the church.  Perhaps you’ve seen sanctuaries built to the glory of God with rugged vaulted ceilings made of exposed wooden beams, intentionally fashioned to resemble the reversed look of a boat’s keel.  The architecture of many cathedrals contains what’s called transepts – the part of the building extending north to south like the horizontal beam of the cross.  The transepts run between the parts of the building called the chancel area and the part of the building called the nave, from the Latin word navis.  As in navy, naval.  Ship.  Some liturgies for baptism even include these words:  “’Received into the ark of Christ’s Church . . . may’” (the baptized) “’so pass the waves of this troublesome world’ as finally to ‘come to the land of everlasting life.’  . . .  It’s been written that “The nave, then, (represents) the Church into which God, in (God’s) love gathers us together in order to bring us in safety through the storms of life” (http://biblehub.com/library/regester/the_worship_of_the_church/symbolism_of_the_church_building.htm).  Like Noah and the two-by-two animals that made their way into the big boat right before the rains began.  The Church is the boat of God that holds us all.  And like Noah and all the animals in the big boat, it’s important to remember.  It might get a little stinky inside; but it sure beats drowning outside the ark alone in life’s flood waters.  One source writes of the boat of the Church as “tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls” (Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, http://www.jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols/ship.htm).

It’s been an interesting week to be reflecting upon the story of the boat that holds the sleeping Christ.  How often do we feel like the battered little boat of disciples wishing Jesus would wake up to save us in the churning sea of today’s world?  It might be helpful to know one commentator’s take on why Jesus was able to sleep through the storm on the boat.  In Feasting on the Gospels, Thomas D. Stegman, writes:  “Jesus’ untroubled sleep shows forth his deep, abiding trust in God’s power and protection.  It also recalls the sleep of the farmer in the parable Jesus just told (4:26-29), the sleep that faithfully awaits God’s creative work of nurturing the growth of the field and bringing it to harvest” (Feasting on the Gospels:  Mark; Westminster John Know Press, 2014.  p. 143).  Might we too be a little boat of disciples, holding the sleeping Christ?  Untroubled, he is with us amid the storm.  Awaiting God’s creative work.

It certainly seemed like it when I read this week of the work of the part of God’s boat called the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Perhaps you followed along too.  As the biennial gathering of our national governing body, the General Assembly, met in St. Louis; I was in awe to see what the part of God’s boat called the PCUSA has been up to.  Of course, the week included vigorous debate like that over whether or not to charge the Board of Pensions to stop investing pastor’s pensions in companies who knowingly are doing further harm to the environment.  It also included money of the church being restricted to help repair Native American churches.  And passing an overture about possibly adopting as a confession to be added to our Book of Confessions Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.”  At one point in the week, a young adult attender rose to tell the whole assembly how proud he is to be a part of a denomination that has been becoming more welcoming and affirming for all.  Then, in the very next breath; he came out to everyone there only to be immediately swarmed by a huge group hug (https://marciglass.com/2018/06/21/proud-to-be-presbyterian/).  The week also included something I’ve never before seen reported from GA.  On Tuesday about 400 Presbyterians left the convention hall in St. Louis to march over to the Justice Center with an offering of $47,000.  The money was raised to pay the bail of nearly 3 dozen non-violent offenders charged with things possession of marijuana and public disturbance.  Some have been held for up to a year because they have not been able to scrape together the cash-only required bail needed to release them from jail.  Presbyterians not only gathered to worship and study and debate.  We gathered to serve, as did high schoolers of the Hands and Feet initiative who tagged along from their Presbyterian Churches in Kentucky and Arkansas to do mission work in Ferguson.  The trip was planned in conjunction with the General Assembly gathering so Presbyterians intentionally would bring a positive impact to the St. Louis area (p. 5 of https://issuu.com/pcusa_oga/docs/ga223_news_day_6?e=33600028/62576572).  We gathered to serve the underserved in a racially torn town and ensure the release of captives.  We gathered to amend wrongs of the past and embrace a hopeful future for the least and lost among us.  Somewhere I read of a charge from the General Assembly for all Presbyterians to “live up to the qualities reflected in the PCUSA’s acronym:  Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, and Alive” (p. 3 of https://issuu.com/pcusa_oga/docs/ga223_news_day_6?e=33600028/62576572).  At work today!  Members of God’s boat with a trusting Christ asleep among us.  For he already sees in action God’s creative work!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

God’s Tenacious Kingdom

A Sermon for 17 June 2018 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’  30He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’  33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”

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

 

Let me tell you about a man.  A good man.  Likely living out in the suburbs.  A caring husband.  A supportive father.  A really good dad.  Every Saturday afternoon you can find him on his front lawn.  You see, he’s been to Ace a zillion-times, but each week when he gets up on Saturday morning – wishing he could go enjoy a round of golf instead of heading to hours of pee wee baseball or travel soccer; he knows he’ll be back out there.  On the grass.  Because once again he has awoken to a front yard full of dandelions.  He’s certain the Home Owner’s Association will cite them for a front yard that brings disgrace – and spreading-dandelion-seeds to every other neighbors’ yards.  This will be the week, he dreams, when at last those stubborn things will be under control.  Banished from his property.  Relics of the past.  He pops open his eye with the first sip of morning coffee.  Peeking out the front door, his heart sinks at the sight of the happy yellow heads smiling in the sun.  As if overnight, the little buggers have multiplied.  No matter what he does:  how he yanks, what he sprays; the dandelions return.  Day after day tenacious.  Like an itch no scratching can subdue.  Some things just cannot be stopped.  . . .  According to Jesus, God’s kingdom is like that.

The other day I saw a friend who is 4 ½ months pregnant.  I saw her too on the day she had been at the doctor to confirm the little gift was on it’s way.  She was slim and trim and excited, day one.  Looking great; a radiant glow already.  Four weeks later, when the nausea and debilitating headaches were almost under control, I saw her again.  You have to know she’s a petite little woman.  Standing maybe around 5 feet-two-inches tall.  When I saw her week four after the doctor’s confirmation, the pudge was forming.  Just slightly – only those in the know would notice.  A month ago, she showed up in her first maternity shirt.  Certainly, starting to show.  And just this week, after an ultrasound and in anticipation of an amazing gender reveal party to come; she’s starting to freak out.  She’s already gained 25 pounds.  Even the ultrasound tech accidentally told her:  “you’re having a really big baby!”  Only to correct herself with proper hospital etiquette.  “I mean:  your baby’s really healthy – growing very well!”  From a tiny little spark to over 25 pounds put-on by week 19.  Something so small it only can be seen under a microscope, miraculously growing to something as bulging as a giant watermelon.  . . .  Jesus said, God’s kingdom is like that.

The tiniest seed produces a bumper crop.  Something small and seemingly insignificant, wildly expands to be huge!  In the book Revelation of Love, 14th Century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich put it this way:  “At the same time, (the Lord) showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a tiny ball.  I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean.  The answer came:  ‘This is all that is made.’”  Julian continues, “I felt it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing; but again I was told, ‘This lasts and it will go on lasting forever because God loves it.  And so it is with every being that God loves” (Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich, edited and translated by John Skinner; Image Books, 1996, chapter 5, pp. 9-10).  Four centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” (source unknown).  The seemingly smallest, most insignificant thing does not escape God’s favor.  The teeny-tiny shall become gigantic!  God alone knows how such a little thing grows and grows and grows.  God’s kingdom is like that.

Automatically expanding.  It just happens, proclaims the parable Jesus told.  Totally on its own.  It’s uncontrollable – like God’s love.  Like wildfire that rips through brittle fields.  Something small becomes gigantic.  Mighty all on its own.  Tenacious.  It cannot be stopped.  The parables of Mark’s gospel insist that the kingdom of God is just like that.

Earlier in the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells about various kinds of soil.  Conditions that certainly can impede the seed’s growth.  But even in the most ideal conditions:  we can properly add nutrients to the dirt.  We can plant the seed.  We can ensure the water and place it in proper relationship to the sun.  But we cannot make a little seed grow.  Trust me:  I’ve tried a billion times – sometimes to great success.  God’s kingdom is like that.  The reign of Christ’s Way around the world, according to Jesus’ parables from Mark, is automatic.  The Way of God shall expand.  Despite the daily news reports that everything is so bad.  After all, what the news reports is the anomaly:  the acts that have happened contrary to the daily norm.  It’s not news to report about neighbors who get along day in day out.  It’s not news to report about the simple courtesies that take place in schools and stores and sites of employment.  In a city like metro Nashville, if there are something like five violent crimes a day, at the same time there are like a million-and-a-half daily acts of kindness, compassion, consideration.  Generosity begets generosity, Jesus’s words profess in the verses right before the part of the gospel read aloud today.  Calm too is contagious.  Goodness breads more goodness.  Like the pay it forward trend where one act of unexpected kindness is passed on to another who in turn goes on to perform another unexpected act of kindness.  We can’t make all the chain of events happen.  We can hinder them, for sure.  We can block; and depending on the current state of our hearts, we can try to stamp them out.  Nonetheless, one beneficial act leads to another.  Experiencing love makes us love.  Which might be why, according to the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus instructed his followers not only to love those who love us back, but to love our enemies.  To do good to those who hate us.  To bless those who curse us (Luke 6:27-28).  In other words, to live in this world as the ferment.  The leaven of love that has the potential to transform hates and hurts.  Showing an alternate Way which gives witness to the reign of grace.  The presence of self-giving love.  The tenacious, ever-expanding kingdom of God.

A few years ago, when I was in the Baltic country of Estonia to organize what would become an annual international mission trip; our Christian hosts took us to the old city of Tallinn.  On the way into the inner square, we walked by an old church building, once under siege by Soviet forces.  Though in 1918 Estonia had become an independent nation after lifetimes of living under invader’s rule as far back as eleven hundred years ago; in 1940, the little nation of about 1.4 million people again found themselves under military occupation – first of the Soviet Union and subsequently of Nazi Germany.  Free at last in 1991, the eldest of our Christian hosts told stories of how it had been.  Their church building demolished in the occupation – bombed out by the Soviets, they had to gather on the sly.  Stealing away to each other’s homes for worship.  Praying in basements.  Hiding physical evidence of their Christianity.  They found a way to carry on the faith despite its illegal status according to their foreign occupiers.  In the 20th Century; communism had come, and communism had gone from that little country.  The Christian faith remained.  It didn’t look the same, they had to alter beloved practices.  Still, followers kept hope alive.  Once again to build a magnificent facility, supported generously from funds sent by Korean Christians who knew too what it was like to continue following Christ despite the ways of those around them.  . . .  God’s kingdom is like that.  Irrepressible. Automatic.  Ever-expanding despite any efforts to stamp it out.  The reign of grace knows no end.  Tenacious.  According to Jesus.  God’s kingdom is just like that.  Forever it shall stand!  On this, we can depend.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Discerning the Spirits

A Sermon for 10 June 2018 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Mark 3:20-35.  We continue to hear about the early days of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of Mark.  Listen for God’s word to us.

The words right before verse 20 read:  “Then he went home;”  and beginning at verse 20:  “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”  23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  28 Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”

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

 

The novel The Girl Who Could Read Hearts:  A Family and the Power of Intuition is about six-year-old Kate.  Primarily written from Kate’s six-year-old point of view, the author records in the Afterword that while Kate and her family are fictional; the story is inspired by a vivid dream and influenced heavily by experiences the author has had throughout her life.  It all starts on Kate’s birthday when she accidently puts the candles of her cake too close to her beloved angel doll Etta Ebella.  Given to Kate by her dear grandmother who mysteriously has been left fully paralyzed and unable to speak, Kate knows what her grandmother too knows but no longer can communicate.  That Etta Ebella isn’t a typical childhood toy.  Which is kinda perfect because Kate isn’t a typical child.  The doll is an actual angel whose heart space sometimes turns into sparkly diamonds and whose topaz eyes captivate those in need of help and whose angel wings flutter every now and again to remind Kate to listen to what she hears with the ears of her tummy.  To trust her vision-like dreams.  To pay attention to what she sees when she looks out from the eyes inside her chest.  For Kate has the seemingly miraculous ability to read people’s hearts.

The description of what she sees when Kate looks at people is fascinating.  Like when her favorite Uncle TT takes Kate to the house of a woman friend she didn’t even know he had.  Kate is surprised to see beautiful little sparks coming out of the hearts of both Uncle TT and Dr. Angelique.  As she watches them animatedly talk, Kate sees the firefly-like sparks circling in one between their hearts.  . . .  When Kate looks at her mean-spirited Uncle Vaynem, she sees something else altogether.  There where his heart should be, Kate sees an ugly color.  A hole stockpiled with weapons that are just waiting to be used in stealth against his next target.  . . .  When Kate looks at the sneaky, bigoted nurse at the hospital, Kate sees the color of greenish-grey-black storm clouds.  A heart filled with bumps like warts on a toad.  Kate doesn’t want that nurse to come anywhere near her with her stone-cold, hard as ice eyes and her nasty, pitted heart.  Kate’s angel doll repeatedly tells her to note the gift of her amazing ability to read hearts.

It might be just a fictional story, but it’s remarkable that lots of people similarly see.  Sometimes referred to as empaths; all sorts of people today are paying attention to their ability to see or feel or intuit – as Kate would say:  with the ears of their tummies and the eyes of their hearts.  Thereby knowing just what is inside another person.  The gift might seem as much a curse as a blessing.  True empaths literally feel what others are feeling – often times taking in another person’s emotional energy (Empaths:  16 Simple Habits to Protect Yourself, Feel Better, and Enjoy Life Even If You are Highly Sensitive, Vik Carter, 2017, p. 5).  While it leads to an astounding ability to be extremely sensitive to other people’s pain, being an empath can be totally draining – especially for those who are unaware they are taking in other’s emotions.  Those with such intense empathy can be incredibly generous.  They want to help others, which at times leads to problems.  ‘Cuz empaths can over-give, while others can over-take until there is such an imbalance between two people that one ends up completely empty while the other never can get their fill.  In the story of The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, it’s helpful that little Kate has her Uncle TT with the very same gift, her similarly-gifted grandmother – even if she is incapacitated, and her angel doll Etta Ebella as her guide.  All helping young Kate to make sense of how valuable it is for her to listen to, and act upon, what Etta Ebella tells her are “the whispers of God,” there to guide her so she will “make choices based on what (she) hears and sees with (her) special ears and eyes” (The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, Sherry Maysonave, Balboa Press, 2016, p. 318).

Jesus is talking about the very same thing.  The gospel of Mark records that Jesus goes home – seemingly back to Nazareth – for the first time after he had set out to find John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry.  No sooner do people crowd around him than his family hears he’s back.  It’s noted by the gospel that they’ve grown worried:  Jesus’ momma, brothers, and sisters.  They’ve been hearing the rumors.  They see the mounting fear.  Scribes come poking around from Jerusalem, which can’t at all be good!  Attracting the attention of the spiritual authorities all the way up in Jerusalem means there’s bound to be trouble!  He’s been all over Galilee accomplishing miraculous cures, exercising a new kind of power, making pronouncements that ruffle the feathers of the religious and political leaders of his day.  We have the benefit of the full story as we read of Jesus.  We already believe him the mysterious mix of human and Divine.  His contemporaries did not!  They wanted to know just who he thought he was!

It’s fair to say Jesus was the quintessential empath – with a very special gift of reading the hearts of others.  Certainly, he was expert at listening to the whispers of God.  Paying attention to his vivid vision-like dreams.  Listening with the ears of his tummy and seeing with the eyes of his heart.  People couldn’t understand how he knew what he knew.  It didn’t make sense to them where he got what he taught and how he was able to heal as he did.  They claimed he drove out demons – unclean spirits that might have looked just like six-year-old Kate’s Uncle Vaynem’s ugly-colored, weapon-stockpiling heart; or like what Kate saw when she met the conniving, small-minded nurse with her storm-cloud, wart-bumped heart.  Somehow Jesus was able to discern the spirits of those who came to him.  To cast out the parts that were making the person ill and cure parts of bodies few others dared to touch.  He clearly knew what was of God and what was not.

What’s more, he proclaims that discerning the spirits is key for any who would be his followers.  All his talk about “Satan casting out Satan,” a “kingdom being divided against itself” never being able to stand (Mark 3:23-24).  Jesus knew the difference between that which was of the Holy Spirit and that which was not.  Messing up the difference between a spirit that was contrary to the Spirit of God would have eternal consequences, Jesus taught.  Trying to silence what was of the Spirit of God, as Jesus’ family intended to do to him on his first trip back home, would show one’s real allegiance – would reveal what really was within another’s heart.  Jesus would have none of it.  In word and in deed he proclaimed that being about the will of God shows the contents of a person’s insides.  Jesus teaches that if we want to discern the spirits, all we need to do is look.  . . .  Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul would give the helpful reminder to look for the fruits of the spirit.  We can distinguish between the Holy Spirit of God and that which is not when we see evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  The nine signs that the one we’re looking at is under the influence of the Holy Spirt; is up to the will of God.

It might be easier if we all had Kate’s remarkable ability.  Literally to see the colors and shapes emanating from hearts – our own and others.  It might be a welcome gift to be able to notice when fireflies are dancing or jagged ridges are shooting.  When the emotions of another look like turbulence or feel as delightful as a soft breeze caressing our cheek.  Surely then we could rightly see – clearly distinguishing so we’d repeatedly be on the side of God’s Spirit.  Nonetheless, even if all we have are the eyes on the front of our face; our Lord expects us to look.  To discern between the spirits.  To be sure we don’t mistake the work God is up to in the world today, be it different than what we’ve seen before.  So that when authorities question motives.  And families fear for lives; we are not deterred.  With the clarity of those who really know, we follow where blessed fruit grows.  Welcoming in our lives and others’ the evidence of the Spirit, wonderful signs, God’s whispers come to be our special guides.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

What’s the Purpose of Sabbath?

A Sermon for 3 June 2018

 

A reading from the gospel of Mark 2:23-3:6.  In this season of Pentecost, the gospel texts assigned in the lectionary take us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of Mark.  The oldest of the four gospels we know in Holy Scripture, you might recall that the gospel of Mark also is the shortest.  As if in a very matter of fact way, the writer simply lays out one story after another of Jesus showing up on the scene at his baptism, then taking off all over Galilee with the good news of God.  This gospel never concerns itself with the birth of Jesus, or (in its original form) with resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ.  The writer seems to want to focus the action of it all, and the listener’s attention, on the ministry of Jesus, the Christ.  Healing is a big part of what Jesus went about doing in Galilee.  As is teaching and sending and generally starting a movement of followers who likewise will live in the world as leaven for the dough – expanding acts of compassion, signs of welcome, traces of the good news of God’s gracious love.  In these weeks following Pentecost, when we celebrate the early stages of the church; we’ll be learning from the gospel of Mark.  Taking in the wisdom of Jesus’ work on earth.  Hearing again the good news he embodied.  Hopefully we’ll even be challenged to continue our own growth as followers too of Christ.  Listen for God’s word to us, then, in a reading of Mark 2:23-3:6.

“One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”  25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?  26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”  27 Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”  Again, he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  But they were silent.  He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

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

 

Have you been to the home of an observant Jew for Sabbath?  When three stars can be seen in the evening sky – Sabbath begins on Friday at night.  So that creation is the keeper of time, not the clock.  No later than eighteen minutes before the sun sets, the family is to gather around the Sabbath table.  Two candles are to be lighted by the matriarch of the house.  She waves her hands over the fire then covers her eyes welcoming in the Sabbath.  Reciting the candle blessing she says:  “Blessed are you, O LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe” – or something similar.  “You have sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Sabbath” (http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer/shabbat.htm).  One candle stands as the command to remember.  The other as the command to observe – to keep the Sabbath.  The command we know as number four of the ten found in Exodus chapter 20.  The fruit of the vine is a part of every Sabbath ritual – just 3 ounces for each person present at the table.  In celebration of God’s good creation, the fruit of the vine is consumed.  Hands are washed as a symbol to put down the week’s work.  Ready selves to rest.  It’s a good time to be mindful of the work of your hands from the past week.  Considering what your labors planted and what if anything grew.  Let the toil of work slip away and prepare to be fed by God.  Finally, the bread is broken – all eat as God is blessed for bringing forth bread from the earth.  Some of you know that I do a Christian version of a similar welcoming of Sabbath ritual.  And it is at this point in the ritual that my dog Rufus begins to get a little antsy.  He knows when the bread is broken, he finally gets to participate too.  One little piece of the bread for him, one little piece for me, another for him, another for me until the bread is all gone.  All creation is hallowed by God.  Exodus 20:8-11 proclaims that neither “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien residents in your towns” shall do any work.  On Sabbath, all are allowed to rest to delight!  For, as the story goes:  “in six days the LORD made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:10-11, NRSV).  Delighting in all the work that had been done!  At the Sabbath table, after partaking of the bread of remembrance, it’s time to get down to enjoying together the full family meal.  For Sabbath has come!  It’s the time to rest from the work of our lives.  To be idle in God.  To be opened to God.  It’s the time to pay attention; to hear our names:  precious children of the LORD our God.  Sabbath is the time to stop.  To cease.  In order to seek the true purpose of our lives:  rest in the peace of the LORD.  It is the time to taste and see that the LORD is so very good – the Creator and Sovereign of the universe, the redeemer and liberator of the slaves in Egypt.  So that all together, in freedom, we might rejoice.

A poem called “For Sabbath” by Blu Greenberg, as quoted by Mary Ann McKibben Dana in the great little book called Sabbath in the Suburbs, summarizes Sabbath well.  “Six days shall you be a workaholic; on the seventh day, shall you join the serene company of human beings.  Six days shall you take orders from your boss; on the seventh day, shall you be master of your own life.  Six days shall you toil in the market; on the seventh day, shall you detach from money matters.  Six days shall you create, drive, invent, push; on the seventh day, shall you reflect.  Six days shall you be the perfect success; on the seventh day, shall you remember that not everything is in your power.  Six days shall you be a miserable failure; on the seventh day, shall you be on top of the world.  Six days shall you enjoy the blessings of work; on the seventh day, shall you understand that being is as important as doing” (written by Blu Greenberg as quoted by MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs, Chalice Press, iBooks).

We’ll get back at it again in 24 hours.  Sabbath only lasts until sundown Saturday night.  Then at the close of Sabbath, observant Jews again gather.  Passing the sabbath spices for the fragrance of sabbath to linger among them as they re-enter the work of their lives.  Another candle is lighted.  In Light for the Journey:  Morning and Evening Prayers for Living into God’s World, Christine Sine recommends a prayer for Christians who have observed sabbath rest.  An adapted version of it reads:  “Jesus, we believe that you are the Messiah who has given us new life.  We have lived this day in anticipation of your resurrection-created world, where your eternal sabbath rest waits for all creation.  Your sabbath rest is all-inclusive:  we remember your promise of renewal and rebirth for all life.  You promise to take our yoke upon you.  Your sabbath rest shares our burdens.  You promise to set the captives free.  Your sabbath rest frees from oppression – from the crushing ways of this world.  You promise to feed the hungry.  Your sabbath rest brings abundance for all.  You promise to heal the sick.  Your sabbath rest brings us wholeness.  Not alone, but together, a great international community that is your body, we live in expectation of that day . . . when your eternal sabbath rest comes for all creation” (adapted from:  Light for the Journey:  Morning and Evening Prayers for Living into God’s World, by Christine Sine – from Sunday Evening Prayer, p. 37).

According to the gospel of Mark, the keepers of the law had forgotten the purpose of Sabbath.  Sabbath is a day to be nourished deeply by God.  What more could be welcomed on a beautiful Sabbath afternoon than a stroll with Jesus through a grain field?  With the sun shining down on us as we walked.  Taking in the silence and the wisdom of our Lord.  Who among us wouldn’t break off a piece of the wheat?  Young again like children who pull a piece of tall grass to put in their mouths as they stroll.  Could Sabbath get any better than that?  What’s more, if among us was One with the power to heal a man whose life certainly had been hindered from an unusable limb, could a rule about what you should or shouldn’t do on the LORD’s Day supersede God’s desire for restoration?  For the true vision of shalom?  . . .  From the start, Jesus was going to be in trouble.  He saw the world differently.  He knew what really mattered.  Sabbath rest was made for us.  Not us for ensuring some lofty set of principles would be kept intact.  God desires mercy; not the heavy arm of the law.  It’d be easy to wag our fingers at those bad Pharisees who were just so blind, you see.  The beauty of the gospel is that every piece of it is a mirror for our own soul.  Who among us doesn’t get a little up on our high horse now and again?  What human alive, when challenged, doesn’t slip into the comfort of the rules that must be followed?  And, if you were raised in such a way that everybody else around you believed your view to be the only way, how would you ever know anything different?  Yes, Jesus was going to be trouble – he still is; for he sees it all according to another vision.  Not the view splashed all over the media, surrounding us at work or home; but by the vision of God.  The LORD of True Life.  The Lover of every soul.

One commentator has written:  “Jesus proclaims to his own generation – and to every generation, including ours – that God is not confined to our rules about God or to our way of perceiving God.  . . .  The difficult truth of the cross is that we would rather kill Jesus than be transformed by his love.  . . .  When God gets too close to us, challenging us as Jesus challenged the religious order of his day, we begin to construct our crosses and prepare a place for God there too.”  The writer then asks:  “What field is Jesus walking through in our lives, plucking ears of corn from our sacred rituals?  Who is Jesus healing that we believe should remain sick?  What is Jesus doing in our time that makes us believe that he is foolish at best and dangerous at worst?”  (Nibs Stroupe, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol, 3, p. 95).  Sabbath gives us the time each week to ponder.  To rest from everything else that we might rightly see.  That we might be re-directed when needed by God.  Perhaps it’s why so few stop.  So few cease.  For when we settle into the cadence of Sabbath rest, God finally has a chance to begin saving our lives.  May it be so.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

Celebrating the Spirit’s Work

A Sermon for 20 May 2018 – Pentecost Sunday & 60th Anniversary Celebration

 

A reading for Pentecost from Acts 2:1-21.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

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

 

When the day of Pentecost had come . . .  and the disciples of the Risen Lord were all together in one place in Jerusalem just fifty days after Christ’s crucifixion . . . . something incredible took place!  Like the sound of a violent storm rolling in.  Like people aglow – beaming with light all around as they live fully in the flow.  The whole gathered assembly was filled!  Stirred up – in a good way!  As the Spirit of God infused each one for everyone to leave from that place to accomplish the task needed next in the world:  telling the truth they had seen.  So that the movement behind the crucified and risen Christ would spread.  So that the resurrecting force of God would guide all who would come to believe!  . . .  The power of what can happen when God’s people get together took place on Pentecost!

Here we gather, week after week, hopefully with a sense that something is supposed to happen when the people of God get together.  When we come together for worship, or a few moments we have the chance to be still together.  And to open our mouths in praise together.  To humble our hearts together in confession of our sins and of the sins we see taking place in the world, for which we beg God’s mercy.  Collectively we gather to give our thanks; thereby remembering that we are not our own.  In fact, apart from God, we really can do nothing – except maybe mess things up in our personal and public lives.  Worship is intended to give us space together to be taken up into the presence of the Living God – to be filled, like those first disciples, filled up with the Holy Spirit.  Not because it can’t happen anywhere else in our lives; but because in good days and in bad, we can count on it to happen here.  If not in ourselves, then in the person down the pew who is basking in God’s steadfast love.  In the little child across the sanctuary who is eager to learn.  In the stranger who is grateful to find acceptance here.  Even if it has felt like a million years since the Spirit of God has been flowing through us individually; together here, we are a part of the body of Christ.  Enlivened by the Holy Spirit to be miraculous in the world each day!  Living lives that show what can happen when God’s people come together.

We celebrate that amazing day today – that first Pentecost festival after Christ had risen.  It was customary for faithful Jews to observe Pentecost – sometimes calling it the Festival of Weeks.  “As the fiftieth day after the presentation of the first sheaf of the barley harvest,” Pentecost came to be “considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Sinai” (Donald K. McKim, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 4 & 6).  The day marked the reminder that the law was meant to guide the people of Israel in living according to God’s will.  That way, the community would reflect the very nature of God.  . . .  For the church, Pentecost marks the advent of a new guide.  A new advocate – a new power that dwells within as we seek to live out God’s will as shown to us in Jesus, the Christ.  One commentator has written that “the story of Pentecost . . .  seeks to communicate how important the church is and how inseparable it is from Christ.”  She writes:  “Pentecost serves as a catechetical instruction that continues to tradition the church into its identity and purpose.  Every year, on the Day of Pentecost, we are reminded of who we are as a church, what we proclaim, and the source of that proclamation.  It is a message to the church from the church, passed down through millennia to each generation” (Kristin Emery Saldine, Ibid., p. 4).  That we might be guided by the Spirit today!  That together we might accomplish the task needed next in the world around us.

Today we’re also celebrating the roots of this congregation.  Roots that flow from Pentecost, through those first hundred years of Christ’s followers trying to survive the hostile environment of an empire that wanted them silenced, through dark times as ignorance seemed to fall upon the face of the earth, through the rebirth of enlightened minds and fervent hearts that led to necessary reforms of a church that had strayed from the Way, through new expressions of faith taken on by communities and individuals alike; until, in a land far away, in a place called Tennessee, a handful of folks excited about the possibilities of a new residential community called Hill Place, ensured that this facility was built.  The chapel was named for a primary benefactor Mr. H. G. Hill.  And about 20 classrooms, upstairs and down, eventually would be added.  Where little ones like Tom (who was here 60 years ago) could gather – along with a few of the rest of you who remember jam-packed Sunday School rooms each week.  Over the years, some of you were a part of Youth Groups that certainly contained adventures whose details are best left in the past!  Ladies’ Teas and studies and missions.  Stalwart adult classes digging into the Scriptures.  The years have included missions in which homeless folks found here a hot meal and respite for the night.  And young people of Nashville’s Monroe Harding Children’s Home and Martha O’Bryan Center were given hope.  And those in Honduras whose lives were threatened by unclean water met the diligent hands of Presbyterians from here who changed the course of those villagers’ lives.  . . .  Because those first members and friends of this church came together, marriages took place here – how many of you were married here?  And baptisms – any present today who were baptized here?  Or had your child baptized here.  What about a grandchild baptized here?  Several of you have gathered here after the death of a loved one – your parent, your spouse, or your child, or your dearest friend.  If I were to ask, I hope some of you would raise your hand because you have learned here in this place something vitally important about God and about your worth in God’s eyes and about God’s desires for your life.  I hope at least one person has met a lifelong friend here in this sanctuary – or has introduced one to this church.  And that hundreds have been comforted in times of difficulty here, and even challenged to grow a little bit more through this congregation’s ministries of worship, service, education, and fellowship.  . . .  This church has glorious roots that give witness to what can happen when the people of God come together.

AND this church has the gift of an adventurous future ahead!  Another pastor reminded me this week that no one ever has been able to see exactly what the future will look like.  I’d be willing to bet that the first families who came together to worship in this sanctuary in 1958 could never have imagined what this congregation would look like today.  They couldn’t know what we would carry from our hearts unto God.  The things that would terrify us today and the possibilities we can see.  I’m pretty sure no one in 1958 would have anticipated that 6-week-old infants would need nurturing care every day in classrooms once intended for Sunday instruction.  I doubt anyone in 1958 would have been wondering about how this church could get involved in partnering with a non-profit agency just four miles from here that is filled with women of every color who are trying to heal from their addictions as a part of rebuilding their lives.  Or anticipated work on a more interactive presence for this church on something called the world wide web.  I’d be willing to bet that in 1958, very few pondered how to live faithfully alongside neighbors who call God by a different name – and others who aren’t even interested in calling upon the name of God.

In 60 years, the people of God have changed dramatically – and we will change just as much in the years to come as we seek to accomplish for God the tasks needed next in the world.  Though the future of this and every other Christian church will not look like the past, one thing will never change – Pentecost proves it!  Miraculous things will happen when God’s people come together!  The future will unfold.  The Holy Spirit will guide.  Mysteriously moving in, among, and beyond us for God to accomplish through us what is needed in the world around us now!  . . .  For 60 years gone by, for 60, or 600, or more years yet to come; thanks be to God!  Now and forever!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)