Category Archives: Sermons

Meditations for A Choral Christmas Cantata

9 December 2018

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

Let us pray.  Holy One, through your Spirit, instruct us with the light of your word.  Illumine our hearts, that we may hear and heed your call to become your path into the world.  Through Christ we pray, Amen.

SCRIPTURE READING

A reading from the gospel of Luke 1:68-79.  In this portion of Scripture often called the Canticle of Zechariah – the words on the father’s lips when he looked upon his son who would grow to be known as John the Baptizer; listen for God’s word to us.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before God all our days.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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

MEDITATION

It’s a crazy story.  Shocking in its detail, though familiarity has dulled us to its preposterousness.  How could an occupied people still believe they mattered at all to the Great LORD of the heavens and earth?  How could a nation crushed over and over by invading armies for centuries keep hope in the midst of that kind of darkness?  The audacity of the little guy to believe they still might matter as we hear in the words of Zechariah, the father of one charged with preparing the way for the LORD.  . . . Think of what we’re told takes place:  a virgin conceives?  A man keeps his wedding engagement due to strange words in a dream?  Messengers from God – a whole host of them rouse lowly shepherds with good news of favor unto all?  And how about millennia of people around the world continuing to pay homage to a baby who was smuggled into a neighboring country by his parents because a power-crazed king felt threatened by his birth?

It’s crazy.  Logic-defying stuff we come back to each year.  For that’s what it means to be the people of God called the Church.  We exist because of this story.  We are gathered because of this Truth.  That hope – the belief, the trust in the possibility of a better tomorrow – prevails.  No matter the darkness, Light still shines.  The little guy matters – in fact, all of us matter to the Force that is unending Love, the One who rules over all.  We’re here to remember, as the angel said to the young girl, that nothing shall be impossible with God.  Maybe we too can gain direction for the living of our days through the messages of our dreams, and the songs sung out in glory, and the favor that rests on us all – especially, as the babe once gargling in a manger, grew up to declare:  the last, the least, the despised of the world.  We are the people shaped by the Truth that all find rest in the fold of a Great loving Shepherd.

Open yourself again to the audacity of the story.  Allow your heart to soar with the angelic chorus.  The Word is for us – to be in us, that we too might go into the world to tell!

SCRIPTURE READING  (Luke 2:1-7)

Typically, this reading is reserved for Christmas Eve – not the second Sunday of Advent.  But listen to this most beautiful part of it all.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

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

            Thanks be to God!

MEDITATION

Glory might be the best word in response to it!  Glory to God on high!  Glory to the newborn King!  Glory in excelsis!  Gloria!  Gloria!  Gloria!  . . .  Did you know that according to Siri, glory means high renown or honor won by notable achievements?  Webster’s defines glory similarly.  But just what has God achieved in Christ’s birth?  . . .  Taking on flesh, the Eternal Word blesses us.  Being humbled to be found in human form, brings immense value to our life on this earth.  Emptying Self to live in us, lifts us up to be children of Light – the spark of the Divine within – to shine for all to see!

Christ is the Light of the world!  And all who follow in his form.  All who empty self in service to Life, Live.  Truly Live.  . . .  Just what has God achieved in Christ’s birth?  The start of the revolution:  the New Creation begins!

Glory to God on high!

 

© Copyright JMN – 2018 (All rights reserved.)

“The Reign of Christ the King”

A Sermon for 25 November 2018 – Christ the King Sunday

A reading from the gospel of John 18:33-37.  We break into the portion of the gospel of John when Jesus has been brought before Pilate to be condemned to crucifixion.  Already Pilate has been outside to talk to the religious leaders who have brought Jesus to the local Roman ruler.  And Pilate has wondered if this man isn’t innocent.  He returns to his headquarters to speak to Jesus directly.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

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

 

Anyone who’s ever spent time with stories from the gospels likely recognizes how odd things seem.  In stories recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Jesus does things like sit down to eat with those despised as outsiders.  Heal-with-a-touch people considered unclean, untouchable by religious law.  Welcome women, children, and others – even those from other nations – all who were hailed as less than in Jesus’ day.  Not to mention, forgive those violently taking his life, as even in death he remains grounded in the way of non-violence.  If we stop to read the gospels – and know a thing or two about the times in which Jesus lived, then we begin to see behavior in Jesus and in his first followers that may look quite different from what’s too often seen today.  We may look at the stories of Christ and his first followers and think:  “Wow!  It’s behavior, practices, acts – from truly beyond this world!

It’s Christ the King Sunday – the final Sunday of the liturgical year – the culmination of the cyclical story that takes us in Advent through the waiting, waiting, waiting for God to act among us in a new way, to the in-breaking of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem, to his radical way of living among us which led directly to his death but could not be the end for a God who is Life and would start something amazing among us through the Spirit, so that we would grow together in this world to walk that same radical path of love.  Today we remember Christ is King!  He reigns supreme with the strongest power known in the universe.  Not force, in which the powers of this world put all their hope; but love.

This year in the scriptures assigned by the lectionary for Christ the King, we’re taken right to the judgment seat of Pilate.  Here in the gospel of John a seemingly private conversation between Jesus and Pilate is recorded.  It might be helpful to remember that John is the latest written gospel and it begins with that beautiful poetry of “In the beginning” (John 1:1-14).  There was God.  There was Word.  There was Spirit and the outflow of their love created the world.  The continuing outflow of their love caused it to be that Word would take on flesh to dwell among us.  . . .  Jesus attempts to explain this to Nicodemus when Nicodemus comes to him in the shadow of night trying to understand what Jesus might be up to.  As the gospel of John records the story, it’s the first teaching of Jesus and it begins like this:  “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3).  If you’re scratching your head going:  “Huh?”  Don’t be alarmed.  Supposedly Nicodemus was a part of those who devoted their whole lives to understanding God and he’s just as confused as the next.

In her book entitled The Wisdom Jesus:  Transforming Heart and Mind, Cynthia Bourgeault makes the case that Jesus isn’t just the Savior of the world – here to die and be raised to new life for us, as we’ve primarily come to emphasize in the Christian tradition of the West.  Jesus also is a wisdom teacher – one among us to perk our consciousness that we might come to know how to live.  How to follow the path of his Way.  It’s why so much of what Jesus teaches is hard for us to grasp.  People seek to take him at face value like he’s a teacher who rattles off fact after concrete literal fact.  When wisdom teachers speak, according to Bourgeault, “pithy sayings, puzzles, and parables” all for the sake of the transformation of the human being (The Wisdom Jesus, p. 23).  Bourgeault points out that much of Western Christianity has seen the kingdom of God in one of two different ways.  She writes:  “A lot of Christians . . . assume that the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) means the place where you go when you die – if you’ve been good.”  . . .  Others “equate the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia . . . a realm of peace and justice, where human beings live together in harmony and fair distribution of economic assets” (Ibid., p. 30).  I’ve heard of both, haven’t you?  In fact, one or the other, or both, seem the concern of Pilate.  He’s Rome’s representative in Jerusalem, after all.  If Jesus is a King, he needs to know if his Caesarea has anything about which to be worried.

As Jesus stands before Pilate, he’s asked:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33).  In the vein of a true teacher of wisdom, Jesus turns back the question on the questioner:  “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (John 18:34).  He might as well have been saying:  “What do you think, Pilate?  You see the leaders out there wanting to do me in.  Am I the King of the Jews?”  Insisting Jesus reveal his crimes, Jesus finally tells Pilate:  “My kingdom is not of this world.  That’s easy enough to see or else my followers would be here storming the gates to free me.  Using the very same force upon which Rome and the powers of this world rely” (John 18:36).

I wish the gospel writer would have used a word other than the same one used in the rest of the gospel of John.  Like when John records:  “The Word was in the world, and the world came into being through him . . .  And for God so loved the world” (John 1 & 3).  I wish the word recorded by John on Jesus’ lips before Pilate would have been the word societyCulture.  Even way, as in:  “my kingdom is not like your way.”  Anything to keep us from thinking that Jesus wants nothing to do with the physical stuff of this world.  Too long Christian history has abused the physical in this world due to misguided understandings of God.  After all, if spirit is all that is good and matter is all bad, how can we claim God created physical matter?  This beautiful earth with all its creatures including us, who are an interesting elixir of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, in-fleshed people of God.  If the world is all bad and the spirit is all that is good, then certainly God wouldn’t have taken on our physical flesh in Jesus the Christ.  . . .  Because God took on our flesh and blood; in Jesus God could wake up each day in a home with parents around him, and feet to put on the ground, and taste buds to take-in that first sip of whatever it was he’d drink every morning.  And finally had ears to hear the sweet songs of the birds.  And muscles to feel the strain of physical labor – the wood and tools in his hands as he worked alongside his dad.  Jesus could feel the hot sun on his back as they built.  And notice the beautiful colors as it began to set each night.  He had a brain to think and try to keep calm.  And a heart beating in the center of his chest with which he could feel the full range of human emotions.  I do believe that if God didn’t value the physical stuff of this world – including all the stuff of human flesh, then God never would have chosen to be in-fleshed among us in Jesus the Christ.  But, as the gospel of John so beautifully reminds:  God so loved this world; that God, in Christ, came to us in a new and wonderful way! (John 3:16).

While it is true that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world in the sense of the norms, rituals, and values of so much of our society.  Nonetheless, it is right here and now; in this world.  Jesus says it himself when elsewhere the Pharisees ask him when the Kingdom of God will arrive.  Luke 17:20-21 records his answer as:  “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed . . . for in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.”  In Putting on the Mind of Christ, Jim Marion interestingly concludes that the kingdom of God might just be “a metaphor for a state of consciousness . . . a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place” (The Wisdom Jesus, pp. 30-31).  Hear that again:  the kingdom of God might just be “a metaphor for a state of consciousness . . . a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place” (Ibid.).  An awareness that sees no separation between God and humans, and humans and other humans.  It’s a Oneness.  A mutual indwelling, about which Jesus tells his followers a few chapters earlier in the gospel of John when they gather together that fatal night.  He tells them:  “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you  . . .  abide in me” (John 14:20; 15:4).

When we’re aware of that kind of oneness – when we’re living that kind of unified sense, then indeed the kingdom of God is in us.  Then, and maybe only then, can we be about the behaviors of Christ’s way.  Putting into practice things like expanding our table fellowship because God in Christ ate with the despised of the world.  Maybe as we take on the consciousness of Christ our King, we can sit with people in pain to help heal them too just like God in Christ did.  Perhaps we could enact gracious welcome of all – including men and women and children of every race and tribe and ability because God in Christ certainly did.  Perhaps we could put down the weapons of war and for once understand that the most powerful energy in the world isn’t force, but love.  Because in Christ, God showed us this Way.  The Truth which always leads to Life.

It’s Christ the King Sunday.  The day we celebrate the One whose Way is not like the ways of this world.  Whose Truth looks differently than the lies we’re encouraged by this realm to live.  When we finally get that, his reign expands in us for the Kingdom of God to be seen through us!

Blessings for Christ the King Sunday, children of the King!  May he reign in us all 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.)

 

Our Offerings

A Sermon for 11 November 2018 – Commitment Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:38-44.  And remember that the gospel of Mark records this story as taking place inside the temple in Jerusalem.  Days before Christ’s arrest and crucifixion.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.’  41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

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

 

About a hundred years ago in Europe, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung met.  Freud, known as the founder of psychoanalysis, and Jung, known as the founder of analytical psychology; corresponded first, then worked together for a few years.  Elder Freud was excited about the possibility of passing on what he began to Carl Jung, who was his junior.  It never would work, however, because the two held drastically different views.  Both were curious about the messages that come in dreams.  The images that arise from our unconscious.  Freud believed it all to be a sign, while Jung believed what comes to us in our dreams are symbols; some say gifts from God to guide us on our way.  It sounds like just semantics, I know.  But meet one of them – or sit in a session with a counselor schooled in the tradition of one or the other and you will note a significant difference.  Signs, according to Freud are interpreted by the expert.  So, in Freud’s view, if you dream about water, he would tell you it has something to do with birth.  If you dream about animals or little varmint, Freud would tell you they represent your siblings.  Symbols are different.  Jung believed symbols come from the dreamer’s unconscious to reveal the dreamer’s great wisdom – the spark of the Divine living within.  While many of us approach several symbols similarly, so that Jung concluded we have a collective sense of things; only the dreamer can uncover the meaning of the symbols revealed in their own unconscious.  So, when asked, a dreamer might say that a small copper coin represent a diminishment of wealth.  A lucky penny.  Or even the greatest sacrifice of your life.

As Jesus sat in the temple with his disciples one day, he reminded them to beware.  Beware of those who want to show off their great status.  Those entrusted with holy things who crave public recognition over humble service.  Beware of those who want the best seat everywhere but pay no mind to a place for the vulnerable.  Beware of such impulses in ourselves, I think Jesus intended to say, especially to those who want to get on board in his movement.  Calling ourselves his disciples, but not so sure we’d be willing to let the last go first and the least receive the most.  He’s nearing the end of his lessons with his disciples.  In Jerusalem for one last Passover, as the great shepherd becomes the lamb.  They sit opposite the temple treasury, as Jesus invites his followers to join him to observe.  Sit a spell to people-watch.

Imagine the colorful scene.  Pilgrims from all over have traveled to Jerusalem to be a part of the great feast of Passover.  Many likely had the financial means to attend the celebration every year.  Others were there, wide-eyed in awe, as they’d get just that one chance in their hard-knock life to be there.  It’s believed widows would flock to the temple.  After all, care of widows, orphans, and foreigners repeatedly was commanded in ancient Israel.  Author Kathleen Norris reminds in a wonderful book called Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith, that “righteousness is consistently defined by the prophets, and in the psalms and gospels, as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people in the culture, characterized in ancient Israel as orphans, widows, resident aliens, and the poor” (p. 96).  “Look!” Jesus insists.  Those of extravagance give out of their abundance.  Large sums drop to the bottom of the temple treasury.  And even a destitute widow puts in what she can.  . . .  Though historical interpretation of this text has given the hefty givers a bum rap.  Lifting up a give ‘til it hurts stewardship plea that supposedly mirrors the giving of the heroic widow and her two little mites.  Think for a minute about what those gifts symbolized to Jesus just a few nights before he would give up his very own life.

One commentator writes:  “Those coins represent more than money.  They represent faith and belief and how these must be lived out in our lives in concrete acts” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 4, Emilie M. Townes, p. 286).  Another commentator writes:  “This is the last scene in Jesus’ public ministry.  From here all that remains in Mark’s telling is the temple discourse and the passion narrative.  So, this widow offers a glimpse into what Jesus is about.  He is on the way to giving ‘the whole of his life’ for something that is corrupt and condemned:  all of humanity, the whole world” (Ibid., Pete Peery, pp. 287, 289).  I’ve heard the two coins symbolize trust.  Trust that the people of God would live up to their calling to take care of the widow.  Her giving, then, an act that challenges her community to put their money where their mouth is literally.  Ensure she has enough; for she’s just given to the glory of God the last two coins left to her.  I could stand here on this Commitment Sunday and tell you to give like the widow – pledging on your 2019 Financial Stewardship card all you have to live on.  Or I could ask you to ponder for a bit what those coins represent to you.  What the offerings of your time, talents, and treasures symbolize for you.

I have a hunch some of us would say our offerings represent our faith.  Our trust that in life and in death we are held by God.  Sometimes by something that feels like a direct connection with the LORD of heaven and earth.  Sometimes by the hands of help offered by the person down the pew from us.  The calls of concern and willingness just to ask:  “How are you?”  Faith; trust that we are not alone in this life because of the Presence of God and God’s people may be what our offerings symbolize as we write another check, put in another twenty, or click another link online for funds to be transferred automatically from our account to the church’s.

Some might say it’s gratitude.  For once I was lost; but now I am found.  Blind, but now I see.  So, every Sunday we show up.  We joyfully give God’s tithes and our offerings because our hearts are full of great thanksgiving.  For life.  For health.  For family and friends.  For acceptance.  And forgiveness.  And new beginnings thanks to God.  For being re-created into those who know clear purpose in this life – giving of ourselves for Life in this world.  And so incredibly grateful for the gift of ever-lasting Life.  Those coins.  Our financial offerings symbolize the depths of our gratitude to God.

Another might say “my offerings symbolize my responsibility.”  A privilege not taken lightly, because of being engrafted into the body of Christ in our baptisms.  Taking vows to turn from sin and the ways of evil.  Promising before God and everyone to be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love.  Devoting ourselves to the church’s teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread with one another and being the people of God who pray for the world (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018, p. 409).  Whether taken first for us by our parents and later by ourselves in our confirmations or promised from the start on our own volition; for some of us those baptismal vows were taken very seriously.  When we first said:  “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” and when we re-affirm that faith each week, we responsibly intend to live up to those words.  Which includes our financial contributions to the church as a way we continue together to uphold our vows.  For some of us, giving our money to the work of the church symbolizes part of our responsibility as a disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

What do your offerings symbolize to you?  If you’ve never stopped to consider, I hope you will today.  And I hope you will remember each week when you give just what those tithes and offerings mean to you.  . . .  Hope that this congregation will go on serving God by serving others as we renew community together and in the wider neighborhood.  Reliance upon each other to give a portion of what we have too that together we might continue to be the people of God gathered in this place for worship and service and growth.  For respite and care and connection.  Trust that God receives all of our offerings – large and small – mixes them all together, then accomplishes so much more than any one of us could achieve alone.  God makes miracles occur in all of our lives and in the lives of everyone we meet throughout the week because of what we each have given and received here as a part of this church.

Just what do your offerings symbolize to you?  The fruit from your labors that you give?  As we prepare ourselves to make our 2019 financial pledges, remember and rejoice!  Hear God whisper back to you:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Well done!  Enter into the joy of all who give!”

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 Saints

A Sermon for 4 November 2018 – All Saints’ Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:28-34.  Before hearing this portion of the gospel, it’s important to know that Jesus is in Jerusalem at the temple.  And every time he turns around there, religious leaders are upon him.  At this point in the gospel of Mark, Jesus already has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.  He’s been to the temple to overturn the tables of the moneychangers.  Next, four instances are recorded of the religious leaders coming to question Jesus – and not at all in a friendly manner; for lines in the sand already have been drawn between them.  At last a scribe, who overheard the other leaders’ disputes with Jesus, questions Jesus.  What follows is a beautiful reminder of what God really requires.  In this reading of Mark 12:28-34, listen for God’s word to us.

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  32 Then the scribe said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  34 When Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question.”

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

 

All Saints’ Sunday is the perfect Sunday to have before us the story of Jesus in the temple – at long last putting an end to everyone’s religious questions by declaring it’s all about love, love, love.  Love of God first with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love of neighbor as ourselves – as in loving our neighbors as if we saw them as our very own selves.  Though Roman Catholicism might reserve the status of saint to those the church officially deems so after a lengthy investigative process.  A process that typically includes a five year waiting period after death, substantive evidence of heroic virtue, and at least one if not two verifiable miracles (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646).  In the Reformed Theological Tradition we’re a part of, we view the saints a bit differently.  The PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship reminds us that the emphasis of the festival of All Saints’ Day “is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God.”  We’re further reminded:  “While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of the ages past, we also give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of believers in this and every age.  (Thus) this is an appropriate time to give thanks for members of the community of faith who have died in the past year, and to pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018; p. 383).

During the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving today, we’ll remember the lives of this congregation’s saints – the members of this congregation who have died in the past year.  Elva, Faye, Bill, Bill, and John.  As Christians, we seek to pattern our lives after Christ – following the ways we learn of in Jesus’s life and death and resurrection.  And I think it’s good for us to look too to the lives of other followers among us.  Christians who have shared the pews with us whose lives give witness to the love of God and neighbor enacted among us today – like in our same kind of lives and in similar homes in which we too live.  Think about Elva – if you knew her.  ‘Til just a few days before she died, she sat over there.  Elva was raised in a faithful Christian family.  A member as a child at Woodland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville, she and her family became active members here in this church’s early years.  And for all those years, Elva faithfully worshipped and grew and served among us.  Quietly.  Diligently.  Through hardship and joy.  Her life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  And what about Faye?  I’m told she too used to sit over there.  If you knew her, then you knew that in her last days, every breath was a struggle.  But Faye continued to have that welcome that graced her life with all sorts of interesting, eclectic people.  The memorial service we had here in celebration of her life reminded that Faye loved life.  And people.  No matter who it was, she opened wide her heart for strangers to become friends.  Her life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  And Bill B.  At the beginning of the year, wasn’t he still standing with his cane right on that back row?  Bill had an incredible integrity about him.  A warmth and kindness that made him a wonderful friend and successful businessman.  His entire family admired him – from his devoted wife to his youngest great-grandchild.  Bill still is deeply missed because he cared so much for other people – making them feel special no matter who they were.  Exuding wisdom that came from deep faith.  Indeed his life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  When I think about Bill R., I think about us visiting him just last Christmas when we caroled to him.  Remember how he took a hymnal and started singing along?  Bill loved all of our visits – especially the ones including the children of this church.  A man of few words, he had a presence of appreciation.  Some of you may remember how Bill lovingly cared for his wife for several years.  And though he knew deep pain in his life as a father, one of Bill’s greatest joys in his final months of life was seeing his son released from prison to start his life over – a sober, changed man.  Talk about the forgiving, abiding love of a father for his child!  Bill’s life shows us the power of love – a love like God’s that never gives up on us.  No matter the ways we mess up.  His was a saintly life that teaches us to live likewise.  . . .  Just a few weeks ago, we gathered to celebrate the long life of John.  A survivor the Great Depression, John (like Bill) proudly served our country.  As a naval commander, those who attended John’s memorial service heard the depth of his life’s impact.  A man who had served in the army as a part of the effort storming the beach at Normandy showed up to pay his respects at John’s visitation.  He told John’s children that if it hadn’t been for their father’s leadership by sea that day, he would have been killed in that battle.  John’s courage and steady leadership ensured others lived.  John’s deep love of his family and friends was inspirational.  The way he tirelessly gave for others needs encourages us to live likewise.

In a way, each friend we remember here today shows us what it looks like to put love of God first, followed by love of neighbor as self.  None of us does it perfectly, we know that.  But to keep our aim, as the saints of the faith have, to continue to get up each morning.  Give thanks to God for another day.  Go about our lives loving our family members and neighbors and co-workers.  Finding ways to welcome strangers and provide for those in need.  Giving ourselves in service for middle school students down the street and babies downstairs.  Using our talents in our life together here so that homebound people feel connection and hurting people have a place to come heal and others have a chance to discover new gifts and abilities, and friendship can deepen, and children can grow.  This is what saintly life looks like.  Faithful life.  Generous life.  Lives like the ones you have been living; for which we all can give great thanks!

Perhaps no pope will ever canonize any one of our lives.  No evidence will be sought that proves our heroic virtues or verifies the miracles we accomplished – though each one of us certainly has done the miraculous in the ways we have given of ourselves.  Even if a pope never deems any of us saints, no matter.  Today and every day, we look to the faithful that have slipped on before us.  We celebrate the saintly life of all who quietly continue to live among us right here each day.  . . .  Members and friends, in all the ways you have loved God first and neighbor as self.  In all the ways you faithfully have served God by serving others through your time and talents and treasures, THANK YOU!!!  Thank you!  Through it, God’s kingdom has been in our midst!  . . .  Alleluia!  And amen!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

Three Views of Our Hopes for Every Child!

A Sermon for 21 October 2018 – Children’s Sabbath

A reading from Isaiah 43:1-7.  Listen for God’s word to us.

I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Listen.

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.  Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’”

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

 

I’m up first in today’s three-person tag-team sermon entitled:  Three Views of Our Hopes for Every Child.  In addition to my hopes for every child, we’ll hear from one of our teen members, then from the Community Involvement Specialist at our community partner H.G. Hill Middle School.  Each of us will give our perspective on our hopes for every child.  Because Children’s Sabbath 2018 is all about Hope for Every Child.  . . .  Hope can be difficult to describe.  One source defines hope as “deeper than simple optimism, and more mysterious, delicate, and elusive.”  The source states that:  “Hope is a feeling we must develop and cultivate, but like faith is also a state with which we are graced.  Hope can foster determination and grit”  (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/142028/poems-of-hope-and-resilience).  I think hope has something to do with the ability to bounce back.  Resilient.  Hope is that force in us that keeps us determined despite any setbacks.  No matter how seemingly impossible.  It’s been said that hope motivates us to change what we can control.

Children can’t control very much in their lives.  They’re born into families that will dramatically shape who they will become.  Being born into circumstances of poverty – as far too many children in this world still are – can rob a child of a healthy, well-adjusted, hope-full future.  Being born into complicated situations like to mothers and fathers who may never have wanted a baby due to their own immaturity or wounds or challenges can make life extra difficult for a child as they grow.  . . .  When I consider my hope for every child, the words of the prophet Isaiah come to me.  Words first spoken to an exiled people who weren’t so sure they mattered much to anyone – least of all the Sovereign God of the Universe.  Creator of it all.  The prophet’s words seek to re-strengthen the people.  To remind.  To deepen their hope.  As a mouthpiece for God, the prophet declares God’s message:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  . . .  you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you  . . .  Do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:1, 4, 5).

One thing you, me, and every child can seek to control each day is the message we allow to reside inside us.  Will it be a message from the circumstances of our lives or a message of our beloved worth taken from God’s word to us?  . . .  A recently released pop Christian song called “You Say” puts it this way:  “I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough.  Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up.  Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?  Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know.”  An uplifting refrain swells as the singer belts full voice:  “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing.  You say I am strong when I think I am weak.  You say I am held when I am falling short.  And when I don’t belong, you say I am yours” (“You Say,” sung by Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, 2018).  . . .  My hope for every child is to know this truth.  To feel down deep in our insides that the great Maker of heaven and earth claims us all as beloved.  Gives us a Voice to trust above any lessor messages from peers or parents or culture.  My hope for every child – no matter our location or age – is to live out of the truth that we matter immensely to God.  We are precious in God’s sight.  Honored.  Loved.

 

(Two additional views from two other speakers – not included here.)

 

There you have it.  Three views of our hopes for every child!  Note the similarities and the varied perspectives we each bring.  Let these words, our hopes – all our hopes – motivate us to embody the love of God for every child!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018 (All rights reserved.)

 

Always Reforming

A Sermon for 28 October 2018 – Reformation Sunday

A reading of Acts 15:1-35.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear of one of the church’s first experiences of reformation.  Listen.

“Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.  So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.  But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”   6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.  After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.  And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as God did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith God has made no distinction between them and us.  10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.  13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me.  14 Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for God’s name.  15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.  Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18 known from long ago.’  19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.  21 For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”  22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23 with the following letter:  “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.  24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25 we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.  27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.  28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials:  29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.  Farewell.”  30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch.  When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.  31 When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.  32 Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.   33 After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them.  35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.”

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

 

We may not be incredibly familiar with this text from Acts.  It’s a great one for today, on Reformation Sunday, however, because we get a view into one of the first moments of major reform in the Church . . .

CHILD: (running into the sanctuary with papers in his hand, interrupting):  Pastor Jule!  Pastor Jule!

JULE:  Ah . . .  Ceci?  Is everything ok?  Aren’t you supposed to be quietly sitting in your pew right now?

CHILD:  But Pastor Jule, I found this outside, taped onto the door.  It’s addressed to Hillwood Presbyterian Church.  I think you need to read it!

JULE:  Ah – ok.  Thanks.  I’ll read it after worship.  Now I gotta get back to my sermon.

CHILD:  No Pastor Jule.  You’re supposed to read it NOW!  Aloud!  Read it out to everyone.

JULE:  Seriously, Ceci?  I’m supposed to be preaching right now.

CHILD:  YES, Pastor Jule!  I found it outside taped to the door, addressed to us.  I think it’s really important.  Read it out loud RIGHT NOW!

JULE:  Ok.  But if I do will you at least go sit back down?

CHILD:  Ok, Pastor Jule.  Just make sure you read the whole thing to everybody.  We need to hear what it says.

JULE:  Ah-hmm.  HPC,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s Reformation Sunday and I happen to know that today is the day Protestant Churches around the world celebrate that one man took a stand by posting 95 Thesis on the door to the sanctuary in Whittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517, All Hallow’s Eve – 501 years ago this Wednesday.  He knew his fellow clergymen and congregants would be at high holy mass for All Saints’ Day the next morning on November 1st.  I realize 95 Thesis is a whole long list of protests, demands, complaints – whatever way you look at them.  But Martin Luther wasn’t just complaining about things he didn’t like about his church.  Rather, Martin Luther – and all the reformers to come after him – was undergoing a spiritual re-awakening.  He was so excited about the assurances of God’s absolute acceptance of him, which he was finding in his study of Scripture – Romans in particular.  Like Romans 3:21-26:  “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.  For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.  God did this to show God’s righteousness, because in God’s divine forbearance, God had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that God God’s very self is righteous and that God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).

I love these verses about God’s divine forbearance.  Because they remind me that all of us are ok.  Better than ok even:  fully loved.  Fully accepted.  Fully cherished by our God.  Every human being, not on our own accord – not even through any of our striving, but alone through the efforts of our God.  Grace makes us right with God and each other.  The free gift born of the One who is pure love.  I know we mess up over and over.  We don’t deserve the unconditional love of our God or of each other.  But that’s divine FORBEARANCE:  that patient living with another, committed no matter what to continue to love the other.  Even when we abhor and will NOT tolerate the harmful behavior undertaken by the other.  Though we continuously break the connection between God and ourselves, God is faithful still.  Thanks be to God every day, and especially on Reformation Sunday, for this marvelous GIFT!

Reformation Sunday reminds us too that continuous reform always will be a part of the church.  At least if we believe in the living God who continues to call to the church through Scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I think often of the Early Church:  what a mess!  O, I know Acts of the Apostles tells of followers of Christ initially coming together in joy and thanksgiving each day.  Together they held all things in common and distributed what they had as any had need.  They spent much time together in the temple (which might be code for they sat in lengthy committee meetings).  And “they broke bread at home as they ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:43-47).  Their joy.  Their gratitude.  Their devotion to God and each other was a witness to all the people – others looked upon them with admiration.  And they grew, and they spread, and they started having more and more problems.  Some were threatened by their new-found following of the Way.  Still others soon came to be perceived by them as a threat; because they too wanted in on the Way.  Day by day, the followers of Christ had to come together to listen to each other and for the Spirit of God in their midst.  Just as happened in the story from Acts 15.  “Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit” wasn’t a foundational principle newly discovered and first recorded in the PCUSA’s recently updated FOG (Form of Government, F-1.04).  Disciples of Christ, the Church, always have had to remain open to whatever comes.  That is, at least, if they want to continue with God in their midst.

I guess that’s part of why I’m writing this letter to you, HPC – to and for us.  Because I know it’s been a very full year for us as a church.  We’ve wrestled with some tough stuff, watched beloved friends and fellow church members die, tried new ways of being together in fellowship and spiritual growth through things like Walking Group and Book Studies and Painting Parties.  We’ve worked together – remember all those called meetings earlier in the year to decide to get a loan in order to get some heat and air back in the building?!  Despite the scary price tag, we committed to continuing to be a church in this place so we can serve God by serving others in this area.  We’ve even installed a new pastor – despite the fire alarm sounding about every ten seconds during that service!  We’ve opened our doors to the wider community through Small World Yoga and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families.  And I don’t know if you even realize how busy the Trustees, Property, and Finance folk of the church have gotten.  They’ve newly transferred HPC’s investments to be handled by the PCUSA’s Foundation while beginning to get a master facility care plan in place to ensure generations to come will be able to worship and serve God by coming together in this place.  I could go on – for there’s been so much more too that the people of God have been busy doing in this place through new community partnerships like the one growing with H.G. Hill Middle School and Mending Hearts and the one steadily continuing with our largest service to the community:  Playcare.  A pre-school of almost 90 children onsite every weekday with 20 employees tending and teaching for sweet little ones to grow!  HPC, I write to you excited about it all!  Excited because I see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit all over us all!  In renewal and in change, I’ve seen people open to listening for God’s Spirit.  In the efforts to care more compassionately for one another like through the kinds of ministries the children and teens of the church undertake today by reverse Trick-o-Treating to HPC’s homebound members and friends.  And did you know that our leaders and staff have been working hard together with input from the Renewal Team too to put together exciting ministry plans for 2019?  Not only do we plan to continue to grow our community partnerships, but we also want to create a new ministry of Creativity – maybe even invite some artists from around town to come teach a workshop or two to the wider community.  We plan to open ourselves to new ways of stewardship through a capital campaign and legacy giving that we might be good financial stewards of all we have in life and in death.  I hear plans are in the works for an overnight spiritual refreshment retreat and of course securing new technologies one of these days that will allow the church office to communicate by phone, email, and text in whatever ways work best for church members and friends.  There’s gonna be some of our favorites like Sunday Fellowship Coffee, weekly worship with wonderfully gifted vocal and instrumental musicians, Men’s Club and Women of the Church, continued pastoral care in times of need, and even the fun of Christmas Caroling to our homebound followed by a Christmas Party too.

HPC, on this Reformation Sunday, I’m reminded how dicey those initial days of the Protestant Reformation were – as dicey as the early church times we heard in Acts of the Apostles.  Martin Luther, and the other reformers, never imagined how deeply their personal spiritual awakenings would transform the whole of human history.  Like:  Martin Luther never expected to be hunted by the Pope and his beloved Church, his very life threatened for the ways he believed God’s Spirit was calling the Church into a different future.  He never wanted a house divided.  Like Christ, he wanted God’s people to know the freedom, joy, and wonder he had discovered in the love of God.  Like Christ, he wanted us all to be able to lift our voices in praise to the One who made us and justified us and grows us into more hallowed living each day.  Like Christ, Martin Luther wanted you and me to find deep connection with our God as we read for ourselves the stories of God coming in love to God’s creation again and again and again for the sake of God’s whole, renewed creation.  Like Christ, Martin Luther wanted the kind of awe-filled wonder – the joyful thanksgiving Christ’s first followers celebrated together each day!  . . .  On this 501st celebration of the Great Protestant Reformation, my prayer for this church is the same!

May God bless us all as we live each day as a blessing one to another, and even unto the entire world.

Signed:  A fellow follower of the Way.

Ceci, thank you SO much for bringing this letter to us this morning.  Indeed, it contains God’s good news to us!  So be it.  Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018 (All rights reserved.)

 

Purgation: Begin by Letting Go

A Sermon from 14 October 2018

A reading from the gospel of Mark 10:17-31.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.  19 You know the commandments:  ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words.  But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”  27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”  29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’”

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

 

If you ever have used the prayer tool called the labyrinth, then you know about the Neoplatonic understanding of the spiritual journey as a three-fold path – the path from the letting go of purgation, through the revelation of illumination, finally to the bliss of union.  Many students of scripture prefer to follow the biblical view of spirituality as a four-fold path.  A Way that begins with an understanding of our original blessedness in the Via Positiva, through the letting go of the Via Negativa, to the birthing of the Via Creativa, which leads to renewal – a new creation in the Via Transformativa (Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 2000, pp. 23, 26).  Both paths are ways of recognizing that the spiritual life moves through various predictable stages.  We do well to be aware of the ways lest the experiences of living drastically shock us when circumstances bring us to the next phase of the journey.

The labyrinth gives us a condensed experience of the entire spiritual journey.  It’s not any old backyard maze.  Standing at the opening of the labyrinth; one sees a large, four-quadrant circle having anywhere from three to eleven circuits or paths moving from the outside of the circle to the inside.  As an ancient tool for experiencing the spiritual journey, those who walk or trace a labyrinth give themselves over to about 30-60 minutes to go deeper with God.  I always encourage those using a labyrinth to go slow.  If walking one, unite each step with your breath in order to calm yourself enough to recognize the movement of Spirit within.  In every step, be deliberate.  Don’t worry that you think you’re about to be at the middle, then turn the next corner to find the path before you taking you far away from the center.  Feeling like you’re heading almost all the way back to the beginning.  The spiritual life’s like that.  The point is to keep walking.

As we enter the labyrinth, we let go.  Let go of the busy-ness of the day.  Let go of the worries that constantly gnaw.  Let go of any guilt we have over things done and things left undone.  It’s the purgation of the three-fold path or the Via Negativa of the four-fold one.  The critical phase of the journey.  Without which we wouldn’t get very far.  Because think about it:  if we won’t let go.  If we don’t purge things from our lives that continually distract, we’ll never hear the whispers of God’s Spirit.  Without purgation, nothing much will take place at the center of a labyrinth other than the continual chatter of the loop that runs in our head.  If we don’t let go – if we don’t release from whatever gets in the way of our daily connection to God – we can’t receive what God eagerly wants to give us:  new insights for the journey, a felt sense of the Presence of the Holy with us, peace amid life’s storms.  Nothing new will be born if we refuse what can be scary; but is the absolutely necessary step of letting go whatever stands between us and the incredible experience of union with the LORD our God.

The Master spiritual teacher Jesus knew the Way.  He knew that no matter how difficult the letting go can be, that release must happen.  The gospel of Mark shows us as it opens with Jesus’ first public words.  The invitation is to let go:  “The time is fulfilled,” the gospel reads.  “And the kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus might as well have said:  “let go!”  Let go of the way you have been going.  Let go of whatever is separating you from God.  Let go of whatever keeps you here and now today from living in the kingdom of God.  . . .  No sooner is the proclamation made in general – the gospel not revealing to whom Jesus directed his first public words.  No sooner does the One baptized as God’s Beloved charge anyone who would hear to release whatever they must; than we’re told that Jesus passes along the sea of Galilee saying these words to Simon and his brother Andrew:  “Follow me.”  He goes a little farther around the shoreline to say to other fishermen, James and John:  “Follow me” (Mark 1:16-20).  Surely the sea was dotted that day with those fishing the waters.  We know father Zebedee and several hired hands were in the boat.  The miraculous thing is, four men let go.  They release themselves from their professions and follow along behind the Christ.  They don’t know where they are heading.  That’s exactly what the Via Negativa is like.  Letting go is like wandering around in the darkness a while until what will unfold unfolds.  Releasing what is known, something else has a chance to grow.

With these fishermen, Jesus continues on his journey.  Until the gospel of Mark records in the tenth chapter that a man runs up to Jesus.  He kneels at his feet.  It seems the man wants union.  He longs for eternal life.  He’s followed the religious rules.  Now he wants something More.  Maybe he’s seen it in the life of Christ.  Teaching with profound wisdom.  Making significant differences in the lives of so very many people.  An authority and passion and surge of Life that only comes from deep connection with the Divine.  The man wants it too.  Eternal Life – which isn’t understood in the original language as some sort of heaven in a hereafter.  It’s more a sense of abundant, alive Life now.  Dwelling deeply with God in the culmination of the three and four-fold spiritual paths.  Union.  Communion with the One who created, redeems, and sustains.  Such connection that truly changes lives – blessedly transforming.  The man at Jesus’ feet wants that.  . . .  Inviting him onto the path, Jesus has to tell him to let go.  It’s the first step – the one that gets replicated daily in life behind the Christ.  . . .  The man at Jesus’ feet lacks the willingness to enter the labyrinth.  To purge himself of what is getting in his way of life with God.  He refuses to let go.

What about us?  For those who want to be Christ’s disciples – for those who desire to lead a life worthy of him; are we willing to let go?  And I’m not talking about going out to sell all we have as the way of our release.  Like the man in the gospel, physical possessions might be the block for some of us.  Our wealth might be what gets in our way of life with God.  But what about those of us stuck in a sense that we never could be good enough to be in deep union with God?  What about those of us stuck in our heads – in our left, rational brain so that we can’t logically figure out how being last means being first?  What about those of us who are filling that inner longing with everything else but intimacy with God?  What about those of us who are too afraid of that moment after release – those scary seconds that could last a very long time.  When we could grope in darkness seemingly forever before illumination ever comes.  Do we have the courage to let go?

A man stops Jesus on his journey because he really, really, really wants deep union with God – here and now and forever after.  Shocked at the first step, he has no concept of the spiritual path.  For as an infamous Thirteenth Century theologian once said:  “God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction” (Meister Eckhart quoted by Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 2000, p. 132).  For only that which is empty can be filled.  Only that which is last can be first.

Does it seem unlikely for us?  An impossible first step to let go?  Thanks be to God, Christ declared:  All things are possible with God (Mark 10:27).  . . .  Rumor has it, the words remained with him on a cross.  Just before his final release gave way to a glorious new morn’!  For that, we eternally give great thanks!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)