Category Archives: Sermons

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.)

One

A Sermon for 13 May 2018 – Ascension Sunday & 7th Sunday of Easter

[Acts 1:1-11, and John 17:6-19, NRSV]

A reading from the gospel of John 17:6-19.  If you’ve followed the last couple of weeks of our gospel readings, then you know that this portion of John still happens during that last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion.  Apparently, he had a lot to say that night!  This part of John’s 17th chapter has Jesus turning his eyes heavenward to talk with God.  At the close of all the words recorded on his lips that night, Jesus is praying for his followers.  Our own needs are foremost in his heart.  Listen for God’s word to us as Jesus addresses God.

“’I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’”

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

 

Recently, a colleague told me about a scene from a movie that brought goose bumps to her skin.  It’s one of those sci-fi type films set in a strange, other world.  There are these creatures.  As I heard of them, I pictured some sort of animated thing similar to monkeys – with really long tails.  I’m not sure about the premise of the movie, but after a challenging, chase scene; the monkey-like creatures stop for a moment.  They are somewhere out in a forestry-jungle – and they obviously are exhausted.  Suddenly, in one accord; all the creatures stick the tip of their tail into the land under their feet.  When they do, the scene captures the flow of energy all around.  From the land, into their tails, into each creature’s body.  And from the land below each creature’s feet, outward to the feet of the creature next to them, then up into their bodies too.  In what must have been one amazing moment, movie viewers saw something like a vibrant electrical current connecting it all.  Land to creature and creature to creature.  Like the web of roots under the floor of a forest – connecting one tree to another.  The whole scene transfixed into one!

Last week, I heard another story.  Our Executive Presbyter Warner Durnell told the story in his sermon in worship at the start of the Presbytery meeting last week.  (Source unknown.)  It’s about a farm mouse, who lives in the farm house, and is absolutely panicked when the farmers order a mouse trap to set in the house.  Frantic, the mouse goes from animal to animal shrieking:  “There’s a mouse trap in the house!”  From the chicken, to the pig, to the fattening cow.  Each animal tells the little mouse, “I hear you.  And I can see how you might have need for alarm.  But what concern is a little mouse trap to me?”  The other animals think the mouse’s problem has no impact on their lives.  So, they encourage the little mouse to head out to the field to hide out on his own.  A mousetrap in the house is of no consequence to the chicken, the pig, or the fattening cow.  Until that very night, when the farmer hears rustling close to where the trap had been set.  Fumbling in the dark – convinced of their success in putting an end to the nuance of the mouse that has been in their house; the farmer arrives near the trap only to see – too late – that the tail of a venomous snake is caught in the trap.  Before the farmer can react, the snake snatches down on the farmer’s leg releasing the deadly poison into the farmer’s body.  The story goes that the farmer was rushed to the hospital and thankfully survived the night.  When the farmer and his wife finally returned home the next afternoon, the farmer’s wife decided some chicken soup might be exactly what her husband needed to regain his strength.  She heads out to the barn to ring the chicken’s neck in order to make the soup.  A few days later, the farmer takes a turn for the worse.  All the children come home to sit bed-side, waiting to see if dad will make it.  With the house full again, the farmer’s wife decides to prepare dinner for them all.  Having the pig slaughtered, the family sits down to a meal of ham and mashed potatoes.  Followed by fried bacon for the next morning’s breakfast.  The farmer doesn’t make it.  After the funeral, neighbors from far and wide come calling upon the farmer’s wife and family.  People are everywhere on the farm, and obviously the farmer’s wife is the kind of woman who can’t let a soul go home hungry.  She calls for the fattening cow.  All the guests feast on her infamous beef stew.  From the forest’s edge, the little mouse watched it all.  Terribly sad that his barnyard friends couldn’t see what he saw:  a threat to him was a threat to all.  For as the little mouse knew:  they all were one.

I could go on.  After all, it’s mothers’ day and who knows better than a mother that the child that grows in her womb remains one with her forever.  . . .  One.  We all are one.  Jesus says it in his prayer for his disciples.  “May they know they are one the way you and I, Holy Father, are one” (John 17:11).  He’ll say it again in the verses that follow the reading we heard today.  When he expands the circle beyond the first ones present that night to us all.  The gospel records:  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one’” (John 17:20-23a).

Today is the day in the church year when we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  Ascension Day technically takes place ten days prior to Pentecost; so, forty days after Easter.  In other words, a few days ago on Thursday.  But since it’s not really a Presbyterian thing to gather for worship exactly forty days after Easter, it’s typical to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord the Sunday after instead.  It’s why we’re singing hymns that remind us of the risen and ascended Christ.  And why our first reading was from Acts chapter 1.  Captured there is that mysterious story.  In Acts, we’re told that the Risen Christ had commanded his followers to remain together in Jerusalem.  Waiting for the moment when the Holy Spirit would douse them with incredible power.  Enlivening them to witness right where they were, all over their homeland, and beyond – even to the ends of the earth!  The story goes that as he speaks, the Risen Christ is lifted up out of their sight.  Like the time the prophet Elijah was taken up before Elisha’s eyes.  Those first disciples must have rubbed their eyes wondering exactly what they had witnessed.  Acts records that they stood there staring for a while – likely with their chins on the ground, their eyes searching.  . . .  After all, did you hear what he just told them?  Sure, they were going to get the Holy Spirit.  But it meant that he expected them to go tell the story.  To speak about what they had seen.  To enact what Christ had enacted among them.  To risk angering the very same ones who six weeks earlier had put Jesus to death.  No matter.  He expected them to see the way he did:  one.  One.  Each connected one to another.  One.  . . .  Maybe Jesus’ first followers stood gazing up at heaven to figure out what they had seen.  But, more likely they really wanted to get away too.  So that they were standing there internally pleading:  “Take me!  Take me too!”

How often have the people of God similarly been locked, looking to the heavens?  Over the years, we’ve even concocted all sorts of elaborate – inaccurate – theologies of how someday God will come to destroy this all.  But not before we’re taken up too, either before or after a 1,000-year reign of the returned Christ.  Because really?  Who wants to be left here one more day to endure the difficulties of this earth?  The challenges of a post-modern world.  The fast-pace life of a technological culture.  . . .  No matter how deep the human impulse to fly away into the skies with God, to incorrectly make the spiritual journey all about me and the One up there; one commentator has written:  “Instead of retreat from the world, Christ offers an alternative model that can empower the community to live in the world without succumbing to its values and pressures.  They (we) are to stay in the world under the protective care of God.”  Loving one another because we are connected one to another and to it all.  That same commentator writes that we “are to live amidst all of the knotted complexities of the world without . . . getting entangled.  . . .  Christ reminds the church that the pattern of his own life was not escape from the world but engagement with the world, with all of its distorted powers and pressures (Thomas H. Troeger, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2; p. 547, 549).  No matter how much we might want to stare upwards – to focus on a relationship with a God that is out there beyond us as the point of it all; before his crucifixion, Christ fervently prays for us to look at the space between us.  To know that we might be a zillion different individuals – all created with particular gifts and unique abilities – but we are one.  Connected – whether we want to be or not.  Whether we like the neighbors around us or not.  Whether we have a single concern for their plight, or not.  It’s how we have been made – in the image and likeness of the One that is Father and Son and Holy Spirit too.  Christ in us, and he in God, and we – all – completely one.

May we have the eyes to see, the minds to envision, and the wills always ready to act.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

Love Lessons

A Sermon for 6 May 2018 – 6th Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 15:9-17 (NRSV).  This reading picks up right where Jesus left off with his disciples at their last meal together before his arrest and crucifixion.  Remember that he is not only seeking to comfort them in all that lies ahead.  He’s also charging them one last time before his death and resurrection with how he expects them to live.  Abiding in his love, he knows:  he will live among them forever.  Listen:

“’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.  15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  16 You did not choose me, but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’”

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

 

In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation (to Mary) stands adjacent to the Church of St. Joseph.  Below the Church of the Annunciation, it is believed that the remains of Mary’s family home lie near the believed remains of the home that may have belonged to Joseph’s family – as if to tell the world through archeology that Joseph grew up alongside young Mary as the boy next door.  Childhood sweethearts destined to be together.  Other traditions tell that the remains in the cave under the Church of St. Joseph are where Joseph had his carpentry business – the holy family either living behind it, or in the home next door where the annunciation to Mary is believed to have taken place.  Whether the remains of either edifice are the exact spot where it all happened, Nazareth today tells the story of a unified, devoted family.  Even the art on display depicts a happy little three-some:  Father Joseph, Mother Mary, and the radiant child ever between them.  From icons to sculptures to massive wall paintings, Nazareth portrays the importance of each role.  The care needed from a willing mother.  The mastery taught from an industrious dad who passed on the family trade and faith to the child he took under his wing to raise as his very own son.  Believing the angel’s insistence that the child growing in Mary’s womb was the Spark of the Divine – the son of the Sovereign of the Heavens and Earth, the art of Nazareth shows that between the three – father, mother, and young son – infinite love flows.

It’s a good reminder that love has to be learned somewhere.  We enter this world as infants with such amazing capacity.  When greeted warmly – especially given skin-to-skin contact with our mother in the very first hour after birth, we have the greater ability to attach, have optimal brain development, and avoid separation anxiety which promotes healthy self-regulation as we grow (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/806325).  Trust develops as we cry out when in need only to find the tender hands of a mother or father responding.  When we are held close as babies – able only to see as far as the smiling face gazing back at us, we learn our worth.  We know we matter.  As we physically grow, our little bodies allow us to explore a great big world that is totally new to us.  When encouraged within appropriately safe settings, fear subsides.  We learn to delight in the amazing creation all around.  Hopefully our homes are filled with kind voices.  Reassuring words.  The presence of peace in big people who pay attention to us because they really want to – not merely because they feel obligated.  Hopefully we’re surrounded by parents and siblings and grandparents too who cheer us on as we develop and are there when we fall to pick us up, dust us off, and love us back into trying again.  The lessons of love are meant to start at home.  But they don’t stop there.

According to the gospel of John, as Jesus is with his followers for their last meal together before his arrest and crucifixion; Jesus repeatedly tells them to love one another.  This is the way others will know they belong to him – have been schooled by Rabbi Jesus in his Way.  “Love one another,” Jesus persists, “as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  . . .  It’s such a gift to have the presence of love in our lives.  What a joy, even when we are grown, to have those alongside who greet us warmly, and respond to our needs when we cry out, and gaze upon us with a great big genuine smile.  Life would be hell on earth without heart-felt encouragement, unmerited kindness, and reassurance that we really do matter – at least to one or two people in this world.

Other than saying that no greater love exists than laying down one’s life for one’s friends – and enacting that truth in everything from getting down in the dirt to wash his disciples’ feet to willingly going to his death on a cross, the gospel of John doesn’t give a lot of words to describe love.  The Apostle Paul does in his infamous words to the Christians in Corinth when he writes:  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).  No matter what might be going on in the world around; I wonder how many of us enact in our homes, in our lives, in our dealings with each other as a church:  patience.  Kindness.  Lack of envy.  No boasting.  No arrogance.  Never rude.  How wonderfully freeing does it feel to be in relationships where it is not about someone always insisting on their way or the highway?  Who wants to be around those that are irritable?  Who wants to let into their lives the poison of resentfulness?  Not even children really like the sibling who’s always excited when they mess up.  Wouldn’t we all rather have someone celebrating goodness.  Being with us through great challenges – believing in us and hoping the best for us and sticking with us when the rest of the world runs away?  . . .  Sum it all up in the word L-O-V-E.  But don’t forget the texture of love – the key components.  The grit of love and the grace.  The lasting nature of relationships built upon and filled with mature love.

In her new release called Grateful:  The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Diana Butler Bass eloquently reminds that gratitude, like love, is not just a feeling.  It is an ethic, she says.  A practice.  When chosen routinely, it becomes a habit – which in turn creates a habitat.  So:  a practice of giving thanks – enacted routinely, leads to a habitat of gratitude – a person who lives thankfully – filled with grace; for they know “every hour is a grace” (Elie Wiesel quote in chapter 2, Grateful).  . . .  Likewise, a practice of loving – which routinely enacts patience, kindness, humility, modesty, civility, collaboration, contentment, and forgiveness – creates a habitat of love.  Beautiful lives for all.  Love in action – not just a warm feeling inside.  But sustained, chosen acts.  Like the kinds we see when the early church was at its best – ensuring those in deep need were tended.  Sharing what they had with each other.  Speaking the truth in love in trust that God would take care of the rest.  Living humbly, with humility – not trying to draw attention unto themselves as they spread the message of God’s love far and wide and accomplished amazing feats by the Holy Spirit.  In their finest hours, those Jesus called his friends went forth from his death and resurrection to keep their focus on the transforming love of God for the sake of all the world.

Certainly, we know that the practice of love can be complex.  Recently, a devoted grandmother was telling me that upon just returning from a week with her daughter and grandchildren, she was trying to determine whether or not to say yes to her daughter’s request to please make the 10-hour car trip again – twice more in the next month for week at a time to again babysit the three grandchildren while their mother worked.  I wouldn’t tell the grandmother what to do – how could I?  I hardly knew the ins-and-outs of the family’s dynamics even to give good advice.  But I was reminded that true love is not always easy.  Depending on the situation, sometimes the most loving thing we can do in relationships is tell another person:  “No.  This is acceptable, loving behavior; and that is not.  This is the proper boundary between what is me and what is them.  And that is not.”  Other times, our yes is exactly what is needed.  Freely chosen, we give witness to the kind of love Jesus was commending.

“Love one another,” Jesus commands.  “As I have loved you” (John 15:12).  Live in that amazing flow – the life-giving habitat of acts freely chosen.  Practices that are routine so that it takes less effort the more we do them.  Schooled in this Way, as Christ promised:  great joy will be in all.  Indeed, our lives will show infinite love still flows.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)