Category Archives: Sermons

God

A Sermon for 16 June 2019 – Trinity Sunday

It’s Trinity Sunday. A day filled with hymns that declare the amazing work of the Godhead. Holy, Holy, Holy is our LORD God Almighty! All creatures of our God and King! This day is a day too to hear beautiful words from Scripture that proclaim the awesome nature of God. I mean, did you hear those words from Psalm 8?! “O LORD: how majestic is your name in all the earth!” How could we do anything but fall absolutely in love with the Creator as we look upon the grandeur of this world? When we gaze up into the night sky – noticing the twinkle of millions of tiny lights that would take millions of years to walk to! When we look at the ground – like how is it possible that we can take tiny seeds that within themselves are a brilliant, beautiful work of art. We put them in the soil, or a songbird just drops them somewhere. The sun shines, the rain falls. The ground gives way. Before we know it, tomatoes are popping out everywhere. Basil is filling the sweet summer air. Even while we’re caught up in the beauty that surrounds, other little marvels are toddling all around us. These human bodies in which we live are sheer miracles. Do you know that when I broke the bone in my foot a few months ago, a very accomplished doctor with a very impressive education working for a well-respected medical group told me that now that the bone (that had been giving me some trouble for a while) finally broke, the body will heal it and build it back even stronger. Sure it’s taking time and there are factors that can impede the process, but I couldn’t believe I waited all that time to have some fancy surgeon tell me the truth of these incredible bodies in which we get to live: it knows how to heal itself! Despite the aches and pains we encounter as we age – indeed, with the Psalmist we can proclaim: O what are human beings, LORD, that you care for us?!

As Christians we believe Christ to be a part of the Triune Godhead that we celebrate on Trinity Sunday. It’s what makes us different from Jews and Unitarians and a whole lot of really spiritually mature people. In Christ, we believe we hear the words of God speaking to us, as Jesus did in that beautiful sermon he gave to his disciples the night before he would die. He promised: “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). God loves us so much, because, after all, God is Love. And as Love, God never, ever, ever is willing to be separated from us. We are God’s, Jesus declares in the portion of the great farewell discourse that we hear from the gospel of John today. That means that even if it feels like the rest of the world has abandoned us. Even if it feels like no one else accepts us. Even if it feels like we are in this all alone, we are not. God is like that tenacious father we hear of in Jesus’ parable of the lost – or prodigal – sons. One who never gives up. One who is proud to welcome us home, no matter what a mess our lives have become.

Trinity Sunday ends up being a day in the church when preachers around the world try to do the impossible: we try to use words to speak about God. To describe God. To explain the very nature of the Godhead that we proclaim through the doctrine of the Trinity. Though clearly spelled out nowhere in the bible, tradition settled on words like Father, Son, Holy Ghost to describe the relatedness of the Triune God. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer often are heard as a way to capture the function of each persona of the three-and-one God. This week, I read words written by The Rev. Jacqui Lewis who tried to describe her vision of God. Admittedly, I’ve never thought about God in the same way that this powerhouse head pastor from New York City’s Middle Collegiate Church describes God. And I’m still letting her explanation of God sink into my soul to see how it might resonate. Even as I remember that Rev. Lewis speaks from and for the context in which she ministers which is a multiracial, fully inclusive congregation whose purpose is “to heal souls and the world because they believe faith is about Love. Period” (https://sojo.net/biography/jacqui-lewis). Quoted in Richard Rohr’s daily devotional, which some of you also may have read on Thursday; Rev. Lewis describes what she sees when she imagines God. She writes: “My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. Her sighs breathe life into humanity. Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love” (Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr Meditation: She Is Love, 13 June 2019). Rev. Lewis claims that we know God is a mystery. She writes: “We don’t know everything about (God). So out of our imaginations and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears, we make stuff up. At our best,” Rev. Lewis writes, “we project goodness, power, kindness, and love unto God. At our worst, we create a God who is punitive, angry, judgmental, and harsh. (Lewis says) We do this because we are those things, and we think they make us safe” (Ibid.).

I would argue that we can find it all in our Holy Scriptures – so many different ways our ancestors in the faith were inspired to use words to attempt to describe what we experience of this amazing Force. This incredible Love. This grand Designer we call God before whose awesomeness we humbly bow. Everything from Good Shepherd to Sheltering Eagle to Righteous Judge to Mother Hen to Solid Rock on which to stand is used in Scripture to speak of God. A plethora of images for just about every need in which we humans will find ourselves. The One – the Force – the Energy – the Love, whichever word best describes God for you – who from the beginning was Triune. Which might just be our attempt to give language – a doctrine, an explanation to the God of the Universe who is relationship itself. And if all this Triune talk. If all this trying to speak of God who took on our flesh and blood to be our Way, our Truth, our Life. If all this trying to speak of the Mystery of Three co-existing as One is too much for our little minds to comprehend, then how about we just listen. Listen for the beauty of how the wisdom writer of Proverbs gave expression to the Divine. Hear God’s word to us in this final Trinity Sunday reading from Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (NRSV).

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –when God had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

What else might we attempt to say about God today? Other than this wisdom text may never have been a reading we’d have known had not the council that created the Revised Common Lectionary decided it must be included every third Trinity Sunday. One biblical commentator writes of these words, “First, the image of Wisdom as God’s helper reminds us of the reciprocity of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit giving and receiving within the very being of God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Jeff Paschal, p. 31). Acting and resting, I would add. Doing and stopping just to behold. The balance of energies that allow the flow. That show us how to be as well. That same biblical commentator goes on to write: “Even more, the description of Wisdom in verses 24 and 25 – ‘brought forth’ (whirling, dancing) – calls to mind the Eastern Church’s emphasis on the Trinity as perichoresis, literally, ‘dancing around’” (Ibid.). In great wisdom the biblical commentator writes: “So we do not worship a stingy God who grudgingly gives gifts and who grants forgiveness as a divine grump” – another way, I would add, that so many seem to imagine God. “Not at all,” writes the commentator, “The triune God is a joyous, dancing God who pours out overflowing gifts to humanity with gladness!” (Ibid.). What a beautiful way to see God in our lives – a way so many of us have experienced even as we have read of in Jesus, the Christ, who lives among us as God! When we experience joy, we know God. When we live free – free enough to dance – we know God. When we take stock of all the gifts that overflow to us, we know God. When we love, we know God. The Triune God whom we trust and worship and serve!

Trinity Sunday is a day to celebrate God, the Mystery who keeps on giving and receiving and giving for all Life to prevail! With grateful hearts, may we ever rejoice in the God who is One, and three. Three and One, dancing around in an endless, unblocked outpouring of Love. Celebrating the inhabited world. Delighting in the whole human race!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

What We Do Have

Sermon for 9 June 2019 – Pentecost Sunday

On this Pentecost Sunday, listen to a reading from Acts of the Apostles 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, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 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!

 

On Monday, Sharon Shields and I attended a rather interesting workshop. We went because of the title: Turning Sacred Space into Kingdom Cash. Admittedly, I was not expecting to sit through a full-blown lecture from a Professor of Finance about the steps to take in order to become a Social Entrepreneur. I wasn’t so sure what to do with his in-depth description on vetting market opportunities that included things like benchmarking to other commercial ventures and regulatory constraints and elasticity of consumers and profit maximizers. I looked around the room as he spoke and wondered if he forgot that we were a bunch of church leaders (mostly preachers); not young adults sitting in a university level business class! What did fascinate me in his presentation was his passion for church-based social enterprises. And the descriptions given at the workshop of not just one but three different church-based social enterprises this professor and his students have been about in the last few years.

Let me tell you about Spring Back – a church-based business that not only is improving the work force, but also is making money in serving the social good. Spring Back is comprised of men from the Isaiah 58 ministry of Belmont Church who are coming out of prison and trying to get their lives back together. At a warehouse off Trinity lane, Spring Back employees these men to whom Belmont Church has been ministering. They report to work for pay each day to take apart mattresses. Now, if you’ve ever tried to get rid of an old mattress, then you know absolutely no body wants them! Even the local dump would rather not take them because they are a huge fire risk. Spring Back teaches the men how to take apart each mattress which is made from something like 85% recyclable materials. Foam on one pile, steel on another. On and on they go with discarded mattress after discarded mattress until a profit actually is earned from the recyclable materials!

We heard too, on Monday, of a Farm to Table social enterprise of Nashville that is taking unused land to grow vegetables to sell to local restaurants. This Farm to Table business trains homeless men and women so they are able to work the land for pay. When harvest comes, two bushels of every crop are donated to local food banks while the rest is sold to restaurants wanting fresh, hearty homegrown food. Like Spring Back, it’s a social enterprise our Finance Professor would call a hit with its triple bottom line!

But I have to admit that the church-based social enterprise that blew my mind away was one called Three One Three. Founded by a passionate millennial who also was with us on Monday. While we listened, Brennon told what his Nashville-based Three One Three is all about. He explained that 3-1-3 or three hundred-thirteen days a year, which is all six days a week excluding Sunday, too many church buildings sit empty. As he spoke, I remembered reading the words a member of the twelve-step group now meeting here on Saturdays wrote just a few months back about lots of people today being disgusted with great big church buildings that lock their doors tight to everything but their own worship on Sundays. I can’t tell you how long I’ve sat year after year throughout the week as a pastor in church buildings where I was the sole human being for hours on end. Sometimes trying to work out of such offices is just creepy with the creeks and bumps empty old buildings can make. As a millennial who knows all about the contemporary craving for community, Brennon told about Three One Three’s co-working space located in a church building that otherwise sits empty 24 hours a day at least six days a week. Three One Three worked with the local church to transform some 10,000 square feet of under-used space into desks, private offices, and communal gathering spaces. Small business owners who prefer working alongside others in order to connect throughout the day or who would rather not tie-up their funds into permanently leased office space have membership in Three One Three. Kinda like getting your YMCA card for the year. Folks pay a monthly fee to have access to all they need to run their small business out of under-used church space. Three One Three members have the great experience of getting to know other Three One Three members – talking at lunch and at breaks about things like their latest struggles at home, their great new ideas in their work, their fears and their challenges in everyday life. Brennon says that kingdom-like conversations take place in church buildings that otherwise would be sitting empty. What’s more, in one year, over three-thousand people – mostly millennials and others who would never consider attending a Sunday worship service – have crossed the threshold of the church building where Three One Three is housed. A few even have become church members. Regardless if the church ever attracts them into the rest of their ministry, that’s three-thousand people being brought into a caring, supportive space where they can connect with Three One Three hosts and other Three One Three users to begin creating community. People come together. Under-used church space gets used. And cash is generated for congregations to further their mission – ensuring they carry on the work entrusted to them by God. Isn’t it absolutely amazing what happens when church folk take stock of what they do have that can be re-purposed to serve the social good?

It’s the kind of thing being preached that first Pentecost when the wind blew and the passion burned like flames dancing over each disciple. The Spirit of God was stirred up among the first followers. Though skeptics poked fun and curmudgeons complained, the Apostle Peter proclaimed that the prophesy of Joel was being let loose in the world. The Spirit upon all flesh! Sons and daughters making way for a new future. Youngsters seeing grand new visions. Elders dreaming dreams! It’s recorded in the gospel of John that Jesus himself once declared they would do greater things than he (John 14:12)! And look: they did! We have! God’s work will not be stopped! The Spirit stirs among us and the Church of Jesus Christ is carried on in bold new ways!

Pentecost is one of my favorite Sundays of the year! Because Pentecost asks us to pray for God’s Spirit to guide us anew! We may not be the kind of church that re-purposes our 13,000 square feet of upstairs under-used space the other 3-1-3 days of the year in a co-working social enterprise. But what do we have as a congregation that the Spirit of God might want used anew for the thousands of residents living around this building? Monday reminded me that as a congregation, this church has been entrusted with nearly nine acres of land in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood. According to the demographic information we now know from the quick overview given during our Capital Campaign, the people living closest to this facility report that they’re mostly not interested in religious institutions. Whether that’s how it’s always been in Hillwood-West Meade or not, those who first came together to begin this congregation had the vision of being located in the middle of this neighborhood for strangers to come together. For neighbors to become friends. For those in need to not have to walk alone. Times were different then, but the church set forth using this building to provide that for which local folks had an appetite. It’s never too late to go back to that beginning. We find our way forward, remembering the past purpose of this church, as we envision what will satisfy the cravings of the community today.

It’s easy to get really uncomfortable with some of the directions churches today are going. Then we can remember the people we know who have no church home. People who have been rejected by family members that get themselves shiny for worship each Sunday but live with such hateful hearts six other days each week. I know children I have loved for years who have grown into adults who aren’t about to get out of bed Sunday mornings to move through rituals that seem empty to them even if it’s always been done that way. I can see in my mind’s eye sisters and brothers of every age who think what we’re about here is irrelevant. Non-sensical. And totally boring. You know such folks too – your own neighbors and friends and family members who we haven’t yet figured out how to reach because we haven’t learned the language that makes sense to them.

I want the Spirit to stir among us again. The mighty winds of God to blow away the chaff of church and re-ignite in us a passion to take the good news of a gracious God out into the streets. I’m not talking about shouting hallelujah on street corners or anything crazy like that! But how about dreaming new dreams around the best things of Christ. Things like caring for those who are hurting. Loving those who feel totally lost. Using this space – this land to connect those who are lonely. Giving hope for a better tomorrow to those who feel nothing’s worth it anymore. None of us have all the answers alone and we might need to take the time to ask youngsters to tell us their visions for the future. We might have to ask those older than us what dreams they have for tomorrow – the best of life they want to make sure those yet to come enjoy.

Pentecost is our time to re-open to the Spirit. To renew through the fresh winds of God that are blowing. May every last one of us listen. Look. Dream. For it is absolutely amazing what happens when church folk take stock of what we do have that can be re-purposed to serve the social good.

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 Fullness of Christ

A Sermon for 2 June 2019 – 7th Sunday/Ascension Sunday

Despite the fact it’s not Thursday, we’re hearing Scripture readings assigned by the lectionary each year for the Ascension of the Lord. As most people never have heard of it and aren’t about to shift their daily calendar to attend to it, as we do for Christmas and Easter; this liturgical day often gets pushed from Ascension Day – the fortieth day of Easter – to the Sunday following it: today, the seventh Sunday of the season of Easter. This year we heard not only the gospel reading assigned for Ascension Day, we also hear the epistle. Ephesians is a letter, likely written by a student of the Apostle Paul, to the church of Ephesus. It has been said to have been “one of the most influential statements of Christian discipleship in early Christianity . . . (with) its depiction of Christian life as a battle against hostile forces” (The Discipleship Study Bible, JKWP, 2008, Ephesians introduction by Stanley Saunders, p. 1990). New Testament scholar Stanley Saunders writes: “Ephesians depicts the Christian life as a battle against cosmic and worldly powers that enslave humankind and darken our awareness and understanding. . . . The first three chapters describe the new reality that has come into being in Christ” (Ibid.). The fullness of Christ, who fills all in all. Listen to this reading of Ephesians 1:15-23 to hear God’s word for our Christian lives today.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

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

 

When I was a child, I loved the Wonder Twins! You may not be familiar with Zan and Jayna who originally were a part of the Super Friends Justice League (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_Twins). No matter the caper, the twins would come together, fist bump, and declare: “Wonder Twin powers activate!” Zan would proclaim: “Shape of” whatever state of water would be needed to combat the evil being done by whoever was threatening the wellbeing of the world. Jayna would shout: “Form of” whatever animal she needed to be in order to work with Zan in saving the day. So, like: as a giant water-wave, Zan could take out the nemesis with a powerful tide while Jayna transformed into something like a friendly whale to carry those in peril safely back to shore. What’s more, as twins they had this psychic connection so that they literally could tell when the other superhero needed back-up. As long as they could come together, to fist bump and declare “Wonder Twin powers activate,” their special powers would be triggered. They would be transformed into exactly what was needed. They galvanized their superhero abilities for everything to be a-okay.

It is that activation. That process – when those two twin energies join together as one. That ability to call upon something extra-ordinary that strikes me in the Wonder Twins. Typically, they looked like every other brother and sister going about their day. But something in them knew they possessed very special powers – ones needed so very much by those in trouble. Oh, every now and again a crafty villain came along to try to bend their minds to his own control. That was when the world most was in jeopardy – the powers of the Wonder Twins vulnerable to be twisted for destructive ends. But for the most part, Zan and Jayna knew that something was in them that could be an incredible force for good. Again and again, they would jump to it, ready to activate those amazing powers not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of any who were in need.

Amazing special powers within is what the writer of Ephesians was trying to tell the church. As far as we know, the writer of this letter never had seen the Christians of Ephesus in person – just heard of their amazing works (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C., Vol. 2, Christopher Rowland, p. 511). Likely the writer heard of feats we’ve come to know as typical Christian kind of stuff – though the acts often were revolutionary in their own time and place. Christians would ensure those without had food. They would care for those who were sick. Christians would welcome widows into the community and give them new purpose through service in Christ’s name. Early Christians sent special offerings to those experiencing famine, like in Jerusalem during the reign of Claudius about fifteen years after Christ’s death and resurrection. They gathered together for prayer – which likely included the kinds of story swopping we hear at Fellowship Time each week. They helped those needing help and found a way to meet as equal all sorts of people: Jews and Greeks. Slaves and free. Men and women alike. Something was activated in them so that they understood the world differently. They saw something in people that many others could not – or just were not aware yet to see. It’s the prayer the writer of Ephesians has for the Christians hearing the message. The spiritual enlightenment the writer wants for them – the opened eyes – that leaves us knowing who we are, what we are made of, and to what we have been called.

Premier Twenty-First Century teacher Father Richard Rohr recently released his mind-opening opus called The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything we See, Hope for, and Believe. In it, he weaves the theology we’ve come to know in the Western Church back together with the best wisdom we turned from in the Eastern Church when we mutually excommunicated each other’s finest teachers in our 1054 C.E. split. He lifts up Scripture after Scripture to show what’s always been there, but we haven’t always seen. For starters, Rohr reminds us that Christ is not Jesus’ last name! Christ is the word for the anointed one, he explains. The “name for the transcendent within . . . the immense spaciousness of all true Love . . . another name for everything – in its fullness” (SPCK, 2019, p. 5). Rohr is trying to remind us that Scripture proclaims from the beginning that the whole world is “Christ-soaked” (Ibid., p.15) – God infused, if you will. Containing a very special power within! Spirit and matter woven together – shown beautifully to us in the incarnation of the one we claim was vulnerably born in Bethlehem. This is the scriptural witness: that the fullness dwells in all – the divine in and above all that leaves us that beautiful mix of flesh and Spirit. The biblical witness proclaims this truth. A reminder we desperately need to know, Rohr claims, because something in the human mind has a tendency to clench the negative. Before we know it, we see the world through the eyes of Genesis 3 – the story of our fallenness. Instead of reading the world through the eyes of Genesis 1 and 2 – the Judeo-Christian creation stories that declare everything good, good, good, good, good, very good!

Living from the frame of our original blessedness, we walk around the world able to see the special power – the transcendent within all – the divine in matter. The fullness of Spirit and flesh beautifully aligned as one. It might sound a little wonky, if we’ve never considered the wisdom coming from what’s often referred to as the Big Tradition – or perennial, wisdom tradition of the Body of Christ – a tradition of Christianity coming not just from reason-seeking theologians, but from embodied contemplatives and mystics whose work is having significant world-wide impact today. When we understand Christ as the fullness – seen clearly in Jesus of Nazareth – it’s almost like we get the blueprint for how to live fully human. How to live whole. Rohr explains: “Jesus is the archetypal human just like us who showed us what the Full Human might look like if we could fully live into it” (Ibid., p. 23). Jesus is the one who shows us how to be those in whom the Spirit of God is activated. Which hopefully we experience at least a few minutes every day!

It’s how the writer of Ephesians can declare to the church that we are Christ’s body, “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). With enlightened eyes, we can see. Spirit activated in matter; the fullness of Christ in, yet above, all. We might need reminding now and again – which is when it’s best we return to our baptisms. You remember baptism, I hope. The trickle of water on the head. The tracing of the cross on the brow, done – in purist liturgical form – with oil as an anointing. Not as coincidence, nor as a way to show the world we’re now somehow over and above everything else. Rather, baptism reminds us – and all with the eyes to see – that we know the Spirit of God to be in us (Another Name for Everything: Episode 1: Christ-Soaked World, 24 Feb. 2019 Podcast about The Universal Christ, Father Rohr). We understand and accept our original blessedness. So that our baptism into Christ – our engrafting into his body – is kinda like our initial fist bump with God when the Spirit of God gets activated in us. Baptized, the Spirit’s power works through us. So we can go forth to combat the forces within and without that threaten the well-being of the world.

It’s a risky venture to infuse us humans with the Spirit. To rely on us now to live awakened – the special power activated in us to be the body of Christ for the world today. To remind everyone we meet that the Spirit of God lives in them too – longing for enlightened eyes to see. Thankfully God gives us each other for the fullness of Christ to dwell. For the need is so great. So many precious people of this planet are in peril because, for whatever reason, they do not know – they cannot yet see their own original blessedness. The good in self and in neighbor. It’s time we remember to live into our hope. To embrace our glorious inheritance. It’s time the immeasurable power of the Spirit gets activated in us all!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Open

A Sermon for 26 May 2019 – 6th Sunday of Easter

A reading from Acts of the Apostles 16:6-15. We’re hearing of the travels of Paul, Silas, and Timothy today. Listen for God’s word to us.

“They went through the region of Phrygia (Fur-gee-ah) and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia (My-shah), they attempted to go into Bithynia (Ba-thin-ia), but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia (My-shah), they went down to Troas (Trow-as). During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace (Sah-mah-throw-ass), the following day to Neapolis (Knee-ah-po-lis), and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia (Lid-dee-ah), a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira (Thigh-ra-tie-ra) and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.”

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

 

Somewhere, I recently read the insight that if you look at every major disaster in the United States, you can see evidence not just of the terrible destruction we withstand as a people. But of the way we rise. The way we open ourselves to be our best selves among one another after such catastrophes. Think about 9/11 – a day that dramatically changed the world. Early in the morning as many of us were just starting work, the reports broke in. In an instant our sense of security as a nation came crashing down. And in the next instance, an overwhelming compassion for one another bubbled up in so many hearts. We knew ourselves connected as we hadn’t known the day before. We kicked in to help – donating time, talents, and money. We walked around a bit dazed, but a little bit more friendly to each other too. In a new way, we were open to the truth that we all are in this together. . . . Same thing happened in the Nashville floods of 2010. Some of you might have found yourself in a very dangerous situation. As the rain came down, so too did the defenses many of us often wear around our hearts. The disaster reminded this city, we all are in this together. Neighbor helped neighbor. Strangers provided for the needs of other strangers. Hearts were open to the pain each other was experiencing. In the midst of such destruction, it was beautiful to see all that loving-kindness spreading like a comforting blanket. From horrific mass shootings, to tragedy striking one of us individually. When life comes crashing down, something new often gets opened up.

That’s what happened to the Apostle Paul, who once was Saul. A man that vehemently, violently persecuted those who had started following the Risen Christ’s Way. A bright light on the road to Damascus blinded him. The Voice spoke. At last something new opened – an impact that dramatically altered the course of human history – as Saul became Paul with the same vehement tenacity he had before. It’s just that after the opening, he hunted instead for those with whom who he could share the good news of Christ! . . . At the start of our reading for today, we hear that Paul and the fellow followers Silas and Timothy had a whole itinerary mapped out. They wanted to go into parts of Asia. But they couldn’t. Instead in a vision, a man of Macedonia comes to Paul pleading for help (Acts 16:9). Paul heeded the message – he now was open to what God wanted. So immediately Paul set course to head in that direction. For the first time, the message about Christ was on its way into Europe. ‘Cuz Philippi was in the district of Macedonia which is a part of modern-day Greece.

Paul and his buddies had a typical pattern when they entered a new city. Usually on the Sabbath they would seek out a Jewish synagogue. They’d look for any circle or house of prayer where Jews would be gathered for Sabbath to give praise to God. For whatever reasons, the place of prayer Paul had learned about in Philippi was outside the gates of the city, over by the river. Maybe because there weren’t ten Jewish men of the city to constitute an official synagogue there. Open to finding those the man of Paul’s vision said were in need; Paul, Silas, Timothy and whoever else might have been with them were willing to venture this different course. . . . I wonder if they were shocked to find that it was a women’s prayer group they were intruding. In those days, men and women most often kept themselves separated. The world was divided into women’s work versus men’s. Male places of privilege and the typical spots of the women. In antiquity, whether they wanted to or not, women usually were obligated to keep to the home – seeing to the needs of however many family members lived there. Property of their husbands, it was suspect for women to converse with un-related men. In the spirit of Jesus who didn’t bother himself with such rules, the apostles don’t seem to care that it’s a women’s prayer circle they find that Sabbath day. Teachers sat to teach back then (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Paul W. Walaskay, p. 479). And the text clearly notes that “we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there” (Acts 16:13). They were open to teaching whoever might listen.

Someone else in this story was open – thank goodness: Lydia. She’s a fascinating woman. Way back then, before women’s suffrage, Lydia was a successful businessperson. The text makes no mention of a husband. In fact, it’s shockingly clear that she is in charge of her household; for when her heart is opened, “she and her household (are) baptized” (Acts 16:15). She is open to this new message and has the authority in her household to ensure they all receive the mark of commitment as well. Then, without seeking permission from any male relative, she invites this group of foreign men to come stay with her at her house – additional signs of her independence and wealth (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, David G. Forney, p. 476). She’d have enough to be able to provide for whatever they needed. Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth – which likely means that she rubbed elbows with the elite. Purple cloth was costly. It was a sign of immense wealth because the dye to make cloth purple, came from secretions of sea snails found in the eastern Mediterranean. Supposedly twelve thousand snails were needed to yield enough dye to color just the trim of a single garment. One could either take the laborious time to milk each sea snail day after day in order to collect each snail’s small yield of dye. Or one could crush the snails completely, which of course meant that business would be dependent upon fishing the next day for more sea snails all the while hoping the snails won’t become extinct. Either way, purple cloth was a luxury item. As one involved in such an elite trade, Lydia certainly must have led an interesting life! . . . One thing more we know about her was that despite any temptation to let her status go to her head, Lydia worshipped God. The word used in Acts to describe her indicates a Gentile who somehow had come to know of Judaism’s God. So she observed the Sabbath and offered her prayers. Maybe she had spent her life searching for something more so that her spirit is open to hear whatever these strangers have to say. She must have been so brave to even stick around when the unfamiliar band of men approached. Unhindered by fear or social customs or entrenched beliefs, she is eager to listen. She is open to whatever might come.

O for a world that lived each day like that! I mean wouldn’t it be a whole lot more fun? Paul went to bed that night possibly a little disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to go to the next place he wanted to in Asia. Then God gives him a totally new direction when Paul hears the need of those somewhere he’s never yet considered: Europe! One biblical commentator reminds, “This was not where they had planned to preach the gospel, but by attending to the voice of God, they found a new and fertile ground to share God’s good news! (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 2, WJKP, 2018. Gary W. Charles, p. 267). And what about Lydia? Lydia got up that Sabbath probably thinking it was going to be like every other time she arrived to worship. When suddenly some strangers come along. The stories they tell about one crucified and risen, one filled with compassion, who was completely faithful to God’s mission of love – those strangers knew stuff she never could imagine! She too is reminded that “God takes the initiative in calling followers to go where God wills” (Ibid.).

A friend once sent me a text reading: “I wonder what the next crazy venture beneath the skies will be” (Anonymous). What an incredible attitude! What a great way to get up each day open to whatever God has in store. Maybe, like Lydia, one of us is supposed to open ourselves that a whole new ministry might begin in our midst. You know, she insisted the apostles come back to her home and thus began a joy-filled church in Philippi – the first one ever in Europe! . . . Open to whatever comes, we’re bound to know more joy. Open to God’s presence in our midst, we need not fear. Open to each new day, even open to each other, we can trust that somehow God can take who we are, what we have, and see to it that God’s will is accomplished in this world. . . . If it doesn’t come naturally, then we can pray. Acts indicates that it was the LORD who opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). Can’t you just hear her daily praying: “Open me, LORD. Open me, LORD, to whatever you will this day!” . . . With this as our mantra, who knows what crazy venture beneath the skies will be next for us all!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

Around the Table

A Sermon for 19 May 2019 – 5th Sunday of Easter

A reading from Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

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

 

In Take this Bread: A Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-first-Century Christian, Sara Miles tells of the first day she walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California. Raised by parents who wanted nothing to do with the religion for which each sets of their parents had been overseas missionaries; at forty-six, Sara walked into the building down the street from her house one day. From the start, she was struck by the beautiful, sun-drenched rotunda of the space where chairs where configured in a circle around that to which every detail of the building’s architecture pointed. Sara writes: there, “in the center of the open, empty space (that) was ringed high above by a huge neo-Byzantine mural of unlikely saint figures;” there, was a table (p. 57). That morning, for the first time, Sara heard the words she would hear every other time she gathered with others for worship in that place. Amid simple a cappella songs, the standing and sitting that accompanies the pageantry of most any Episcopal service, the listening, and the joyful dance that led worshippers up to that table; Sara heard a woman announce: “Jesus invites everyone to his table” (p. 58). Though never having received the bread and fruit of the vine before; Sara went forward to taste and see.

Sara would come to learn that this little church intentionally had been crafted by two priests who had grown weary of ossified Episcopalian worship. From the building, to the rock-hewn baptismal font out back, from the beautiful liturgy, to the body of believers who were “mostly highly-educated, liberal, middle-age San Francisco professionals, with” in Sara’s words, “a sprinkling of Republicans, older people, and younger families . . . a congregation of 150 artists, scholars, theater designers, psychologists, and composers” – many of whom had spent years away from religion but were looking for a way back into a congregation that would accept them for who they were. Doubts, difference, and all. Sara stood among them around that table that winter morning and as she ate the crumbly bread and drank from the cup of sweet wine, Sara writes: “Jesus happened to me” (p. 58). From that first time around that table, her life dramatically changed.

I’m not sure what would happen if someone like Sara came into our midst. ‘Cuz within a year, she went to her new priests to ask if it would be possible to begin handing out bread from that very table to the ethnically and economically different, hungry people who lived all around St. Gregory’s building but never set foot in the door. From the moment Jesus happened to her. From the moment she first heard the words, “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” Sara – a woman who started out as a chef in New York long before women were accepted as chefs. Having ingested Jesus at that table, Sara wanted to feed others too! From nothing, she began what would become one of San Francisco’s busiest food pantries. And when they couldn’t keep up with the need, Sara found ways to replicate the model at various locations nearby. She firmly believed what was said each week in worship: Jesus invites everyone to his table! With loaves of bread literally given from that same table every Friday, the face of St. Gregory’s Episcopal church began to change.

Long has the church struggled in sharing The Table with others. As early as the first days of the Acts of the Apostles, the first followers of the Way weren’t so sure with whom it was okay to eat. As Jews who had gotten on board behind the wandering rabbi from Nazareth, they believed that it wasn’t kosher to dine with those who were different from them. It makes no sense really that they clung to this notion, because the gospels tell story after story of Jesus sitting at table with those who were not considered ritually clean. In fact, when a woman from Syrophoenicia reminds Jesus that even Gentile “dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” her faith is blessed. Her daughter instantly healed. The One the apostles had been following – the One they had been watching welcome those often-considered outsiders, touching those thought untouchable, inviting the most unlikely to come follow. Jesus, the One from whom the first disciples had been learning, ate in the homes of tax collectors and Pharisees. The gospels tell the stories of a Holy rebel. The ultimate table-turner who freely shared what he had been given. How in the world could those to whom he had entrusted his mission so blatantly missed his point?!

According to Acts of the Apostles, Peter is swarmed in Jerusalem for eating with uncircumcised men! It happened that Peter – the one often considered Jesus’ lead disciple – was off on his travels. Preaching the good news of the Risen Christ. Healing powerfully in his name. Staying in the city of Joppa, Peter was asked to come to Caesarea by a man named Cornelius. Long years Cornelius had prayed to God. Giving alms and dedicating his whole household to the LORD despite the fact that he was a member of an Italian Cohort – a centurion serving Rome, who himself was not a Jew. It can be hard for us to understand all the fuss. Most of us today don’t even know the background of our ancestors. We don’t build our guest lists based on whether or not each guest is circumcised! Oh, we have the safe circles in which we mostly live and move and have our being so that many of us may never have sat down to supper with someone who wasn’t born in the United States. We may never have eaten with someone who doesn’t speak our same language. We might know a few folks of another religion. But have we intentionally invited them over to our homes or set up a date to meet for dinner after work? Maybe we’ve experienced such divergent ways when traveling internationally for a mission trip. But how often in the past week have we entertained at our tables those who are radically different from us?

For me the question is an unfolding journey. Because I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin where it was drilled into us as youngsters that “If you’re not Dutch; you’re not much.” Difference spanned the gamut of from which part of the Netherlands did your grandparents come? In our little town of 1,800, we worried about how blonde your hair was and if you were ready every summer to participate in Holland Fest. All four churches in town believed they were so very different, though all four were a part of the Reformed Theological Tradition. And you wouldn’t dream of becoming friends with the one or two Catholics who went to services outside the village limits. We were proud to be Dutch – counted among the much who worked hard. But it didn’t take too many years of living until it was clear to me that my own mother was a red-head and my best friend in high school was a dry-witted brunette. None of us really were the same – but if you wanted to color outside the lines, that too would have to be done outside the village limits. In Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “God made us different that we might know one another, and . . . how we treat one another is the best expression of our beliefs” (p. 225). Had I never met those different from me, I literally would not be here today. Neither would you. Despite how awkward it can feel sometimes when we’re not sure if we all agree on the same table etiquette, why in the world would we refuse to eat with those who are different from us?

It would take a startling vision from God for Peter to abandon his prejudices. On the roof at the home where he was staying in Joppa, Peter found himself in a dream-like trance while he prayed. Something like a sheet descended from the heavens with all sorts of animals in it. It’s recorded that Peter was hungry and a voice told him to go ahead and eat. Protesting that the animals held in the sheet weren’t all ritually clean, Peter refused to eat. Lest we think the vision is just about what foods to eat, the voice Peter heard clearly told him – three times: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Wasn’t that how they were treating the Gentiles? Not so sure they were clean in the eyes of God, though according to the story the Creator of all made all good. Very, very good!

It certainly can complicate things trying to eat with those who are different from us. ‘Cuz like did you know that not everyone in the world wants to drink sweet tea? And I can tell you as a first-hand witness that not every Presbyterian Church in this country has ever even heard of pimento cheese sandwiches! When we sit down at table with different people, we might have to learn how to eat other foods. Literally finding that the Jewish family down the street is grateful to stop to observe a holy Sabbath rest each Friday night. The Buddhist neighbor could teach us a lot about keeping centered in peace through silent prayer. Someone who’s not even sure there is a God might be the first one at our door in a crisis – their commitment to relieving human need coming from their own experience of compassion when catastrophe struck their life. The other night I was blessed to listen to a passionate, young African American women tell about the way she has begun a Soulful Sunday circle in a local park. As she held my broken foot to offer me healing energy, she talked of the young people who join her to sit in the quiet on the earth, be guided in a heart-centered meditation, and re-grounded to go back out into the world for another week.  . . .  Isn’t it amazing to think of us all at one Table? Bountifully eating our fill of food that truly nourishes?

About us all dining together, one biblical commentator writes: “A change of heart comes when one sees the Spirit at work in the stories of strangers, recognizing in them the same Spirit that is working in one’s own life. People need first to see God at God’s surprising work. Theological reflection comes afterward, either to bring what has been seen into coherence with past thinking, or to make a reasoned break with that thinking” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Lewis S. Mudge, p. 252). That’s how Peter and the believers in Jerusalem finally understood. As Peter eloquently proclaimed to Cornelius and those gathered in Caesarea: now “I truly understand,” he said, “that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears the LORD and does what is right is acceptable to God” (Acts 10:34-35). For indeed, God gives the Spirit to all that leads all to Life! (Acts 11:18).

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

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.