Tag Archives: Abundance

God’s Abundance

A Sermon for 21 January 2018 

A reading from the gospel of John 2:1-11.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear of the gospel of John’s recording of Jesus’ first act upon his mission.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

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

 

I heard an incredible dream recently.  The main symbol in it was a table.  Now this wasn’t just an ordinary dining room table.  It was the largest buffet table one ever could imagine!  At least twelve feet wide and two or more lengths of this sanctuary long!  It was immense!  On it was every food conceivable.  All the delicacies to enjoy:  delicious-looking pastries, bountiful fruit, casseroles that smelled wonderful, and vegetable dishes that would make your mouth water just looking at them.  All this, in just the first few feet of the bountiful table which was centered in the middle of an elegant, open-air balcony where people of all kinds joyfully were milling about.  The occasion was Easter brunch.  The mood was festive.  Laughter and excitement and hope filled the air.  Families were all together.  Friends were enjoying the merriment of each other’s company.  Everyone had a spot somewhere at the sophisticated banquet.  In a word it was the picture of abundance!  Such an incredible dream!

We’re not sure what the room looked like in Cana of Galilee.  Though I’ve been to the church sanctuary erected over the spot believed to be the site, where the first sign of Jesus’ public ministry took place – at least according to the gospel of John.  We’re not even sure if the wedding reception was in a room or outside somewhere in the open-air on the land surrounding the bridegroom’s home.  What we do know is that after inviting a few men near Bethany to come and see, Jesus set out for the region of his home in Galilee.  Cana was a few miles northeast of Nazareth and it seemed Jesus’ family was present at the event.  . . .  The writer of John’s gospel makes some interesting decisions in telling the story of the One met in Jesus, the Christ.  From the start, reference is made to resurrection:  “On the third day,” chapter two begins in the gospel’s launch into Jesus’ public ministry.  Every reader of the gospel knows what else took place on the third day.  From the start, we’re supposed to hear the story of Jesus with resurrection in mind.  The whole point of this gospel is to embrace the gift of God’s promise.  The surprise of the Light that shines despite the darkness.  To welcome “What has come to being in him,” as John 1:4 states:  “Life!”  God’s promise for all: never-ending, abundant Life!

Interesting too, this gospel begins Jesus’ public ministry at a wedding.  Jesus and his first followers have been invited to a party:  a celebration to honor covenants made.  We’re again supposed to catch the deeper meaning of the ministry of the embodied Word beginning thus.  Long years the people of Israel were told by God’s prophets that God was like their groom – and a frustrated one at that, waiting for his bride to be faithful.  Remember the prophet Hosea?  Just to prove a point, God had him marry Gomer, a wife of whoredom to show metaphorically that God’s wife, Israel, had forsaken the sacred covenant.  In anger and hurt God declares to Hosea:  say to my people “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” (Hosea 2:1-2).  The covenant has been defiled.  . . .  The metaphor has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with union.  The coming together of opposites to create a third.  Divine and human melding into one.  As is happening in the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us.  The Transcendent mingling with the stuff of Earth that both become something holy.  Something cherished.  Something new.  Indeed, a wedding in Cana is the perfect place for the embodied Word to begin revealing his glory.

Whether Jesus is goading his mother when she comes with the concern that the wine has run out, or if he’s not yet aware of his time; one thing is for sure.  Mother Mary knows the One who is present at the party.  After all, he grew in her very own womb.  She knows the Bridegroom, the true Host, has arrived.  The One who will attend to the needs of the guests.  For it was what he was born to do.  . . .  At her prodding, Jesus takes up his mother’s ministry of hospitality in signs that reveal the abundant goodness of the true Host.  The water becomes the very best wine – and an infinite amount at that.  Anywhere from 120-180 gallons of the finest wine anyone ever could imagine!  At last the prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled that promised:  “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:2-5).  As promised, God’s blessing is upon the people.  A boundless sign shows it to be true.  . . .  Isn’t it beautiful?  Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as the story is told according to the gospel of John, we see the abundance of God.  Something like a bountiful table.  A never-ending cup.  Streams of mercy that overflow for all the world!

One theologian writes, and I quote, that:  “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly.  We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment.  We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death.  We ought to attract people to the church quite literally,” he writes, “by the fun there is in being a Christian” (Robert Hotchkins, Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, pp. 262,264).  . . .  Too many have been made to think it’s all about rigid rules, and buzz-kill sacrifices, and hiding any sense of enjoyment lest God or anyone else might be watching!  But that’s more like John the Baptist-kinda of faith, than Christ’s Cana-kind of grace.  As see in the One who stands as the sign that heaven and earth – Spirit and flesh have been wed.  The time for profuse joy and peace and hope has begun and is expected in us because of the bountiful nature of God!  The gracious invitation to the never-ending celebration from the true Host, who dreams for our lives to be as extravagantly generous as God.  As filled with eternal merriment thanks to the gift of everlasting, abundant life!

Brothers and sisters of Christ, as Cana teaches:  the abundant grace of God is here!  Let the party begin!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Thirst

A Sermon for 19 March 2017 – Third Sunday during Lent

A reading from the gospel of John 4:1-42.  Listen for God’s word to us.

     “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4 But he had to go through Samaria.  5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon.  7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true!”  19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).  “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”  27 Just then his disciples came.  They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”  28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.  She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  30 They left the city and were on their way to him.  31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’?  But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”  39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”  40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  41 And many more believed because of his word.  42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.””
This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!
      Monday in Kansas City, the NEXT Church national conference began.  You’d think with a name like NEXT Church, this would be a conference put on by flashy young clergymen from one of those non-denominational, mega, pop-up churches.  But, believe it or not, NEXT Church is a network of church members, youth leaders, educators, pastors, professors, seminarians, and ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This national network of Presbyterians believes “the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful, and more agile” (www.nextchurch.net/about-next/).  Their website includes relevant resources, an opportunity to be a part of a monthly web-based roundtable, and story after story of churches telling the ways they are re-imagining treasured ministries.  There’s even a submission from a SMALL church of this Presbytery that created a 20-minute Ash Wednesday pod-cast to reach 1,000 listeners – something they did in addition to a drive-through line in their parking lot for commuters to receive the imposition of ashes on their way to work.  Sounds pretty cool to me!  . . .  In addition to having a website filled with such creative options, NEXT Church also hosts an annual conference.  This year, some 220 first-time attenders joined another 300 or so folks for a week of honest, inspiring conversation around the theme Wells and Walls:  Well-Being in a Thirsty World.  They spent all week around the gospel of John’s story of Jesus, tired out from his journey, breaking down walls as he sought out a local well.
     It may be shocking to hear, as the gospel details early in this story, that even Jesus was thirsty along his journey.  Jesus seems to indicate that it’s four months before the harvest, so likely that puts them in the heat of summer, at noon, mid-way through the five-day trek of the 100 miles from Judea where Jerusalem is, back to his home district of Galilee, where Jesus undertook the majority of his ministry.  Intentionally he takes the short cut.  Maybe because he’s exhausted from the journey.  More likely because he’s not afraid of the long-standing walls between people.  Though the Samaritans may not be included in his people’s definition of one of us; the gospel of John tells the story as if he had a messianic need to go through Samaria.  He may be tired out from his journey so that he sits at a well – likely hoping to quench his body’s thirst.  But within, he also has another thirst.  He has a thirst – a craving inside to encounter those of this world who thirst.  This is the gospel, remember, that one chapter prior tells of Jesus encountering at night the Pharisee Nicodemus.  According to the gospel of John, the last time we hear of Jesus in conversation with another; he tells that treasured truth:  why God sent him into the world.  Out of love, we hear on the lips of Jesus in John 3:16, the Word was enfleshed; not to condemn but that no last one would perish.  The thirst that drives our Christ is to fulfill this mission of God’s.  To complete this work, Jesus explains to his disciples after they return and find him talking with a woman, of Samaria, who has been passed from husband to husband.  She happens to be the one who walked up in this foreign land through which Jesus decided to travel.  So she becomes his first Samaritan disciple who runs off to tell everyone else about the One she encountered at noon at the well.
     It’s hard to tell when we’re thirsty, isn’t it?  I listened to a friend this week who is worried she could end up hospitalized from de-hydration, as she was two years ago, because she can’t seem to remember to stop throughout the day to take in the water she needs.  Due to a recent flood in her area, it doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to, but it’s still right there – with her in her computer case as she travels from place to place going about her daily work.  According to Water.org, an international nonprofit organization that has been working for 25 years to address the global water crisis; 663 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.  That’s one in 10 people on this planet, or twice the population of the United States, without safe drinking water.  That’s a lot of thirsty, prone to disease and death people who literally need water to drink.  . . .  I could tell you stats about how many today describe themselves as spiritually thirsty but not turning to the church for connection with the Divine.  A growing number of spiritually curious people in the United States do not see evidence that church-goers’ lives look any different than their own unchurched life.  But we don’t need the stats to know how deep the thirst.  We know the stories.  Grown children who may still consider themselves Christian but do not participate in a local church; it seems irrelevant.  Siblings who don’t make it a practice to be in worship anywhere – if they ever did.  Neighbors who most likely spend Sunday mornings lounging and catching up as a family rather than racing over here – or to any of the other ga-zillion Nashville church options.  Even those who want to be here, but no longer can be due to illness or mobility or physical capacity.  Everywhere we look today, we see thirst.  We, who come here week after week, also thirst.  . . .  What’s going to quench those parched places in us and in others?
     The gospel of John presents One who stays with the woman.  Locked in what seems like a heady-battle, she questions and queries as one determined to protect her heart.  With every response, Jesus just takes her deeper; deeper to the scorched places within.  He meets her where she is and won’t allow any rules set up between them to get in his way.  He is thirsty for her not to perish, which in the gospel of John has to do with a state of living right now, today.  The eternal life that is God’s will is not just about eons to pass.  Eternal life has a flavor that better matches our understanding of abundance – a state of being now that our Creator wants for us all.  It’s the difference between a stinky, still pond of water and a fresh, gushing spring coming right up from the ground.  Or the difference in a defensive woman at a well and a filled-with-vigor witness who drops her jar to sprint back to the village to tell news too good to be kept inside.  It’s one filled with a joy-ful spirit who finally knows herself accepted in the eyes of the Divine, cherished as one welcomed into the fold.  Standing in the presence of the One whose love will wash over her every morning like waves refreshing a tattered soul.  Simply Jesus reveals himself unto her until, at last, everything within comes alive.
     He wants it for us too.  And for every other person of this world who thirsts.  Somehow the two go together – that when we are filled, the Spirit of God comes pouring right back out.  We know it because in this story, Jesus never does get a cup of cool water from that well.  His thirst is quenched in his encounter with the woman and those of her town to whom she introduced him.  We’d do well to remember:  it is in fulfilling the mission of God, Christ’s thirst is satisfied.  . . .  It’s like that with life-giving water.  Ebbing and flowing between us like waves.  No walls able to stop it.  It just keeps crashing up against any defenses, slowly wearing ‘em down, until we’re drenched in God’s life-giving love.
     For us all in this world who thirst, may the Living Water flow!
     In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
                                             © Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)

Store Up

A Sermon for 31 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 12:13-21. Listen for God’s word to us as we continue to hear of Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to what lie ahead in Jerusalem.

“Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’”

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

 

Has anybody ever meddled into what you make in a year? It happened to a school teacher at a dinner party. Perhaps you’ve read the story. It goes that a CEO was leading the conversation – waxing on about the problems of education in America. Maybe he genuinely wanted to know, though it seemed more like a smug turn in the conversation. Looking directly to the school teacher sitting across the fancy table from him, he said: “You’re a teacher Bonnie. Be honest: what do you make?” The room fell silent as all the guests were shocked by the condescending nature of the CEO’s question. Bonnie, ever a teacher, took a deep breath and frankly replied: “You want to know what I make? Well . . . I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner. I make kids sit through forty minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for five minutes without an IPod, Game Cube, or movie rental. Do you really want to know what I make?” The story goes that she paused to look at each and every person sitting at the table, then continued: “I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions. I teach them how to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator. I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe and secure. Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts; they can succeed in life. Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are so ignorant. You want to know what I make?” The teacher said. “I make a difference in all your lives, educating your children (and grandchildren) and preparing them” to become who they will become. Returning her gaze to the man across the table from her, the teacher went on: “What do you make Mr. CEO?” The story ends by stating: “Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so they know the value of things, not the price. (For source, search: Funny Videos and More).

We may know plenty of teachers who don’t approach what they make in this way. And, there are CEOs who aren’t just in it for the money. But the story gets the point across. Too many of us have our values all messed up. We labor for a paycheck instead of the contributions we are making for the betterment of the world. We choose our life’s path according to the bottom line of the good old American buck and all we believe will come with it. We work hard to store up whatever we think we will need – experiences, products, larger sums in the stock market. . . . I’m sorry to sound as if I’m meddling now, but the text before us makes it pretty clear. Long the church has remained silent or apologetic in the area of life in which Americans today just might need the most faith-based guidance. That which we value – that for which we will toil; giving our blood, sweat, and tears. The way we define abundance. . . . It’s obvious from Jesus’ words here – and his words throughout the gospels. In fact, read through the gospels – especially the gospel of Luke and you will see that Jesus preaches and teaches about money, possessions, abundance, value more than any other hot button topic of the day. He’s most concerned with what to do with what we have. How to put God before that which we can get in this world. How to put our trust not in what we can earn or how much we have saved up. None of that makes us secure. Only in God are we truly secure. . . . If I was brave today, I’d have us all take out our check book registers – or for those of us who no longer keep such a thing, get online to look at our bank account expenditures. Take a good look. Then ask yourself: what is it you value? Or pull out your weekly calendar, if you feel like your money doesn’t deserve the scrutiny of your faith. Take a good look and ask again: what is it you value?

“Take care!” Jesus said. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” . . . What does your life consist of? What do you store up? In other words, how do you define abundance? . . . A whole world around us has very clearly defined it for us: get more. Make more. Take more for yourself. . . . It sounds a lot like the man in Jesus’ parable. The rich fool. I mean, just listening to the story it makes you wonder what was wrong with him. The land produces so much more than he ever could imagine. He had barns, but they obviously already were full or could only hold so much of that amazing bumper crop, which he seems to think he made happen all by himself. And the ONLY solution he can imagine is to build himself a bigger place for storage? . . . It reminds me of the day my house in Chicago sold and I still was living here in the guest room at a friend’s house. Panicked about what would happen the day my moving truck arrived in Nashville and I had no home yet in which to unload; I went to one of the MANY storage places nearby to look into having a place for my things to be until I would be in the position to move out of the guest room into a house. The man at the storage rental told me he had just one unit left the size I needed. I knew Nashville had a lot of new people moving in but I was a bit shocked his HUGE storage complex could be so incredibly full. Curious, I asked him if that many people were in transition like me – in a temporary housing situation that required their possessions to be stored for a while. He looked at me as if I was the dumbest person on the planet. But still trying to be kind to get my business, he said: “Not really. Most of our units are people permanently needing extra storage. A lot of people have more stuff than can fit in their homes. We stay busy year-round.” . . . One look at my office and you can see I too have a lot of stuff. Jesus’ parable messes with every one of us. And I realize some of us have storage units for all sorts of good reasons: maybe it’s to store the belongings of a loved one whose house sold after they died sooner than we could sort through it all. Maybe we only have a closet or two at home – or no place for special seasonal items that we love. Maybe it’s the grown kids’ stuff while they’re away at college – or not yet in a home large enough for their personal belongings. Whatever. Jesus’ isn’t trying to judge us – he even says to the sibling trying to get him involved: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” He doesn’t intend to judge; he intends to keep us on the path with him.

Couldn’t that man in the parable have thought of ONE other option for his accumulated crops? “You fool!” Jesus says. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” . . . What if he threw a grand, week-long feast? Invited friends and family. Neighbors and strangers too. Imagine the fun! The laughter and love around one great big table as whoever arrived to enjoy a celebration together. When at last he laid his head on his pillow that night, never to wake again; a smile would have been on his lips, the voices of new friends still lingering in his ears. That would have been an amazing way to go out! . . . Could he have valued the immediate needs of the widows, orphans, and sojourners in the land over his own future situation? Maybe just put what he could in his existing barns and instead of trying to stock-pile more, just give the rest to the ones God long has commanded us to tend – the most vulnerable in our midst? . . . Presumably he didn’t do all that work in the fields himself. Did he have employees or day laborers who might have enjoyed an extra basket or two of the crops themselves? . . . Could he define abundance in no other way? Shown he valued anything else more than himself? Things like generosity. Kindness. Connection with others. Sharing because we know nothing comes to us all by our own efforts. We are NOT self-sufficient, no matter how much we want to live in the illusion that we are. Is storing up for ourselves really the only way to be in this world?

Long, long ago, Jesus said: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” . . . With the way we’re saturated in our consumer culture each day, we would do well to keep Jesus’ words as a mantra in our hearts. Life in Christ does NOT consist in the abundance of possessions. Guided by his way, we get to define what we value – what abundance means to each one of us each day – because of what he values; how his life defined abundance. . . . Take care, followers of Christ. Take care.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

The Ministry of This Church

A Sermon for 11 October 2015 – Celebration Sunday

A reading from 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?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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.'” The man said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 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.” When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 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!” 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! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 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, 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. 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!

I heard a story this week about the ruins of the nunnery on the island of Iona in Scotland. (John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts, “Prologue”). Though the walls of the nunnery have been fallen for years, at one time the edifice stretched to the heavens to house a community of women who had devoted their lives to God through life together in that convent. I don’t know much about how life unfolded for those who once thrived in that spot. The storyteller mentioned the joys of communal life: catching up with each other as they peeled potatoes for the community dinner. Finding one another in corridors when news from home came that broke their hearts in two. Strolling together beside the sea on Iona to tell of their latest insight. There in that nunnery, disciples had worshipped God and opened their hearts to the beauty of the Psalms and diligently prayed for a world at peace. They had welcomed guests and shared what they could with the downtrodden and sought to live out their lives in obedience to God alongside one another. Long have the ruins of the nunnery on Iona gone unnoticed, the storyteller explained. But in the past few decades, the spot has become one of the most hallowed on a weekly trek around the island for pilgrims that have come from all over the world. Something about the ruins of the nunnery speaks to seekers’ deepest desires for community. For expressions of Christian faith that know we need each other – that we are dependent upon each other if we’ve got any shot at living faithful to the gospel. Something about that spot that marks the place where women once lived in devoted relationship together – well, something about that spot calls to the places in pilgrims that long for similar connection with God and one another.

At first glance, the ruins of the nunnery on the island of Iona may seem to have not one thing to do with the gospel text before us today. It begins with an eager man coming to Jesus to know what to do to get eternal life. We immediately may think of the afterlife – as this man may have been considering as well. But Jesus clearly has a different notion about inheriting eternal life. . . . This is a good, God-fearing man who has done all he can to keep the commands of God. “Since my youth,” he says, “I have followed God’s law” (Mark 10:20). No murder, no adultery, no stealing, no false witnessing, no defrauding, and dutifully bringing honor to his mother and father. In a look of love, Jesus tells him one thing more: “go sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then come follow me” (Mark 10:21). After the whole exchange about camels going through needles’ eyes, Jesus disciples start to wonder. What about their reward? If the man with many possessions wants to know about inheriting more than he already has, then what about them? They had left everything to follow. They committed themselves to being Christ’s disciples. As if the adventure of all those miracles wasn’t enough – seeing him feed hungry crowds, and heal broken bodies, and turn lives around with the good news of God’s unmerited love – as if all that wasn’t abundance enough, Jesus’ disciples start wondering what they might inherit for all their trouble.

It’s how we know Jesus isn’t talking just about some distant future after our days on earth are done. You see, what God’s up to never has been just about some day by and by. It’s so easy to forget. As we’re out here on the road of discipleship, how often do we stop to take stock? How often do we pause to see the ways our lives already overflow abundantly – eternally – because of our inclusion in the body of Christ? . . . He’s telling his first disciples they’re surrounded now with brothers and sisters on the journey. All sorts of opportunities to exercise the message he’s teaching them. They’re encircled by the joys that come from life together in Christ’s name. The ways we know love and mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness from our lives intertwining with those in this sanctuary and beyond. . . . Think for a moment how your life would be if you had nothing to do with the ministry of this church. What would vanish – who would vanish immediately from your life if you weren’t a part of this congregation? . . . From my own, I know I’d be missing out on a whole lot of laughter and love and care. Without one another, you just might not have made it through that last family struggle. Would you have been able to fend for yourself through the illness that nearly took you under? Would your worldview be as big as it is because of the insights you’ve heard in Sunday School, or the stories you now know from those coming for help from the food pantry? Would your spirit have had that moment of connection with God’s Spirit without the inspiring music of the choir? Would you know people who do pray for you and listen to you and are ready to help you in times of need had your life never come into the presence of Christ living through the people of this church? . . . It’s easy to focus on what we hope to get one day at our end; but Jesus won’t let us get stuck there. He’s among us to let us know that each day, as a part of the family of God, is our reward – our blessing as we share our lives with one another and with all in need who cross our path. . . . Somedays it might be like iron sharpening iron – the rough edges of ourselves getting smoothed out in relationship with one another. Somedays we might more fully know our convictions – the truth God has put within us because of some other message we hear from another. I heard from a homebound member of this congregation this week – even though they can’t be present right now. They said that just knowing you all are here, the love of God continuing through you in this place – well for that homebound member of this congregation, that is comfort enough.

It’s what the man coming to Jesus will miss. It’s not that Jesus wants us all to give up everything we have to come after him. Unless like that man, we’re locked in an isolated circle of our own wealth. The man can follow all the rules all by himself. He can’t know love, however; he can’t know the kind of pour-out-your-life for the benefit of another which is God. He’ll never experience that all on his own. None of us will. . . . We can possess all sorts of stuff in this life, and let it possess us. Or we can hold on loosely in order to have hands open, ready, willing to be with another. Reaching out in relationship to experience today the hundredfold wealth of community in Christ’s name. It’s a simple choice when we get down to it: for what reward will we toil?

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

Pilgrimage Remembrances #3

And on the third day touring the Holy Land . . .

10 March 2014 – Megiddo or Armageddon as we hear it called by some today: the site of the final battle envisioned in Revelation (16:16) when good finally will triumph to bring an end to all destruction.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

Which makes some sense because in 7,000 years, this place has been conquered and rebuilt over 25 times. It’s unfortunate that the geography makes this the path for travel between such ancient superpowers as Egypt to the south, and Syria and Mesopotamia to the north. Set at the south-central edge of an incredibly fertile valley (the Jezreel Valley, which is known as the breadbasket of Israel), the inhabitants of Megiddo hardly had a chance! Nazareth can be seen in the distance northeast of Megiddo – just on the opposite edge of the valley. In other words, a young boy growing up in Nazareth certainly would have known and remembered the bloody history of Megiddo.

Ruins on Megiddo.

   Ruins on Megiddo.

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel -- an ancient way to get fresh water!

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel — an ancient way to get fresh water!

In our time of silent reflection on Megiddo, I wrote these words: Twenty-five times this little city has been conquered. I can’t imagine! How do you make a life in the midst of such a history when the very land under your feet runs red with the blood of so many others who tried to make home in the very same spot under your feet? How do you ever feel secure? Safe? Fearless? God really is their only hope. Their only security. And yet again we choose to secure ourselves. To allow might to be our fortress – no matter how many times that experiment fails. Jesus grew up not far from here. Which means he knew well how vulnerable his people – all people – were. How fragile their history. How often their choice to defend themselves with the very tools of force used against them. It would never work. It will never work.

Peace. How do we have peace in the midst of our violent, ready-to-fight history?

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy upon us all.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley.  10 March 2014.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley. 10 March 2014.

On to Nazareth: The childhood home of Jesus.       

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

Jesus, we’re stuck in a traffic jam in Upper Nazareth. And down below I can see the house of Mary and the house of Joseph – which of course confirm that Mary and Joseph were neighbors. The boy next door. It was meaningful to be at the Greek Orthodox Church of Mary’s Well. I like the tradition that she was drawing water from the well the first time the angel visited. Supposedly she was so afraid, she ran all the way home! It was a long way actually as we discovered when we were walking to it in the rain. . . . The Church of Joseph’s house was amazing. Ruins from the house of Joseph, which most probably were where Jesus grew up. How very cool to see what very well was Jesus childhood home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family's home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family’s home.

A carpenter shop in the front and the home in the back of it, if you have enough money and land. Which they supposedly must have according to the ruins. . . .

The Holy Family's mikvah.

The Holy Family’s mikvah.

To imagine the spot in Mary’s house where the angel visited – AGAIN, or for the first time if you don’t go with the tradition of the well. Courage certainly was the word that kept coming back. That must have been her trek from the well back to her home. Fear turned to courage with every step. . . . Courage overcoming the fear. Courage to say let it be. Courage to go along with God’s big dream for her life – and for the life of the world! . . .

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger's first visitation).

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger’s first visitation).

Icon of the Annunciation.

Icon of the Annunciation.

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

Our visit was a bit rushed, but so incredibly beautiful. I especially loved the family portraits of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. You don’t see all three of them together very often in the art.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon.  Taken by JMN.  10 March 2014.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon. Taken by JMN. 10 March 2014.

I love that one that looked Middle Eastern – more true to life. That one was great because it showed a whole family – the importance of each one of them in the story. . . . The importance of each one of us in the story. . . . It looked to me like such love. Such joy. Such laughter in their family. But such seriousness too. Growth. Learning. That very same courage both Mary and Joseph had – they passed it on to him. I guess for such a big dream, you needed two who were brave, despite their fear. Two who would say “let it be so with me as you desire!” Two who could build a foundation of courage and hope and obedience. . . . God, won’t you increase in me my courage and hope and obedience? . . . Let us all hear the voice of whatever messenger you send. Give us courage not to run away. But to sit. To wait. To listen. To allow a space in each one of us to open up from the fear into singing a song of the praise of God! Let us sing out to glorify the LORD who sets us free!

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph.  Nazareth.

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph. Nazareth.

Late afternoon, 10 March 2014: Stopped in Cana, I decided to re-read the story while I waited for the group that went to see the holy site. John 2:1-11: Jesus, his mother, and a few first followers attend a wedding feast a few miles northeast of his hometown. If you don’t know the story, read it. The gospel of John records it as the first of many of his great signs: unexpected abundance! In that spot, my reflections on the story were these: So clearly Jesus says to his mother, don’t push me! And yet . . . Mary, still the agent of God’s Spirit, persists. Lovely!

And the story goes that his first disciples believe because of this first amazing sign (turning LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of water into LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of the finest wine! Six huge vats full of the most amazing fruit of the vine – like the yield of a whole vineyard suddenly in their midst!) It was ABUNDANCE! An unexpected gift!

Which leaves me wondering what signs I’m given each day.

The sky over Cana in Galilee.  10 March 2014.

The sky over Cana in Galilee. 10 March 2014.

This gorgeous blue sky of Cana as the backdrop for beautiful, wispy clouds – the very same patch Mother Mary watched that day she first was visited.

Ru (my lil spirit dog): my experience of resurrection after putting down the last one on Good Friday. When my heart was broken in two, this sweet lil puppy was the gift to me that I would stand back up again. I would love and live and carry on – not because of me. But because of the Holy One. The One that is Life, that rises again and again and again.

Baby Ru!  1 August 2013.

Baby Ru! 1 August 2013.

Unexpected kindness and compassion in the midst of struggle and difficulty. Everything eventually working out. It always will. ALL always shall be well!

The cosmic pattern, the Way: living, and dying, and living again. If only we finally would learn your Way, O Mysterious Force.

All these signs of amazing abundance surround us every day!

Three favorite signs of unexpected abundance: 

a stick bug in my lavender, my beloved climbing rose, and my first-fruits of raspberries!

IMG_0018 IMG_0606 IMG_0616

© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.

Photo by JMN – March 2014 Holy Land Pilgrimage: The fish and loaves at the First Century site of Magdala in Galilee, Israel. That’s right: the town of Mary Magdalene. Just up the road along the Sea of Galilee, Tabgah marks the site of the multiplication. First Century Magdala was a prosperous fishing town. The synagogue recently unearthed there is amazing! So too is the new sanctuary that honors the women of the journey. To me this is an image of abundance, provision, nourishment, joy.

May we all know such abundance, provision, nourishment, and joy everyday!
Stay tuned for more images and insights from my recent Holy Land Pilgrimage.
RevJule

Photo by JMN – March 2014 Holy Land Pilgrimage: Chancel in Magdala, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Photo by JMN – March 2014 Holy Land Pilgrimage: First Century Synagogue of Magdala.