Tag Archives: God’s Love

“Words in our Heads & Hearts”

A Sermon for 12 June 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 7:36-8:3. Listen for God’s word to us.

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””

“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”

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


If you ever did, or maybe still do, read cartoons: remember how there would be those bubble clouds over the heads of figures so that we might know what’s going on inside of them? Often such bubble clouds are used as the true punch of the cartoon – the funniest part for cartoons that are trying to make us laugh. Or the true satire for cartoons that are trying to make a statement. I wish we had such bubble clouds over the heads of the three main characters of this story presented in the gospel of Luke. Then we could get a peek into the true insides of each of them – and maybe even discover the truth inside the bubble clouds of our own lives. If in fact the gospel writer had used such bubble clouds, I wonder if they would read something like this.

First, the Pharisee. . . . It’s so good to be hosting this dinner. I can’t believe he actually said yes to being here when I asked him. We’ve had a few run ins already, this Jesus and my fellow Pharisees. It seems he’s going all over the countryside doing the kind of things righteous ones of God never would! Like that day he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven. “Stand up and walk!” We all know God alone is the one to forgive sins. Who does he think he is?! (Luke 5:17-26). . . . He’s got a reputation for hanging with known sinners. He even welcomes tax collectors who clearly violate God’s ways among us as puppets of our oppressors. Robbing from our own to ensure Rome takes what it wants. . . . He says he’s committed to those who are sick – whatever that means. Is he talking about the sinners who won’t live God’s righteous ways? How can that be? (Luke 5:31-32). . . . The buzz is he just might be our long-awaited Messiah. But I don’t know. He seems to trample all over every Sabbath. First harvesting grain for a meal – a clear violation of God’s command to stop. Rest. Rely upon the LORD (Luke 6:1-5). . . . Then he healed that man with the withered hand. And told us doing good for another is more important than keeping to ancient Sabbath commands. Something in my heart is stirred when he speaks, but then my mind gets all confused trying to reconcile it all with how we’ve always known it to be. (Luke 6:6-11) . . . He claims to be the longed-for Son of Man; yet how can this be? We all know “the righteousness of God means that God cannot endure sinners, and a follower of God gains salvation by upholding the purity code, with its separation of the elect from the sinners of the world” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Gregory Anderson Love, p. 142). That’s what we read in the Torah in Leviticus (5:2-3, 6:18, 27, 7:20, 22:4-9). . . . I’m glad he’s here, though, because I want to understand. But he’s such a challenge to everything we know. I’m just not sure where he’s getting all his ideas. What he says isn’t what I read in our Holy Scripts. He can’t be right. That cannot be God’s way. . . . And if it is, everything I’ve built my faith upon – all the ways I’ve practiced. What I’ve always known of God? . . . If he’s right, that God’s favor is just for us – not dependent upon our holiness codes, then . . . then my whole world must be turned upside down. I just don’t know.

Meanwhile, inside the bubble cloud of character number two, I wonder if her thoughts went something like this. . . . I know I don’t belong here. I wasn’t invited. I would never be welcome. . . . Don’t belong – ha! That’s such an under-statement. I don’t belong anywhere. Anywhere near this house of a righteous Pharisee. Anywhere near this kind of table of such prominent men. Anywhere near this one – if he really is the one they say he is, the Messiah of our God. . . . Who I am doesn’t even matter. I’m an unknown. A nobody. A no-name. A woman pushed to the margins in our city. . . . I know the sneers – the whispers behind my back. What all the people think of me: some sort of dirty degenerate who doesn’t deserve one thing. . . . I know what they believe when they look at me because I believe them too. I’ve spent my life listening to what they say. Despised for how I live. Dejected for who I am. The shame is overwhelming. I’d do anything to escape this pain. I hate myself as much as I know the LORD our God hates me too. . . . I only wish . . . I wonder actually: could his words be true? I’ve heard this Jesus welcomes ones like me. They say at his birth his mother sang in great joy over him. That he would be the salvation of us all (Luke 1:46-55). The mercy of God – maybe even for ones as despicably sinful as me. . . . I don’t get it, though. How can it be what he claims, that the Spirit of the LORD is upon him to show God’s unmerited favor to the lowest of the low in this world (Luke 4:18-19)? None of our holy men ever cohort with the likes of me – unless in secret they’re paying for my presence. Yet this Jesus has been known to eat at table with us – not to shame us further with lectures of our unworthiness. But to laugh and heal and give us hope. . . . He says he’s here for ones just like us (Luke 5:31-32). And . . . and, I’m starting to believe him. . . . I so want to believe him. . . . I’ve heard he’s said: “Blessed are ones like you. Ones hated, excluded, reviled, defamed” (Luke 6:20-22). . . . He’s healed those who aren’t even of our own people and I can’t believe the man of God would touch one who is dead – having compassion on his widowed mother. Restoring her to life too with the protection of her revived only son. . . . If he’s indeed the One of God; if who he is really is who is our God; then I can’t wait a moment longer. Despite the cost – even if I risk further humiliation, or worse, if I barge right in – I must fall in worship at his feet. I must show him the hope I hope he’ll give. The love growing in me for a God who would accept one such as me!

And then, of course, the bubble cloud of character number three: Jesus. . . . Love, love, love, love. I’m all about love, love, love, love. Because God is all about love, love, love, love. . . . When are these people ever going to get that? Sinner and saint alike. . . . I’ve no time for those who think they’re all right all on their own. Because, after all, they think they have no need of me. Of God. Of us. . . . They walk around bopping others on the head with some intricate set of ways they think everyone has to follow. They tie themselves up in it all. In their moments of great honesty, they realize they’re doing the same to themselves – piling up requirements on themselves and others that they think will earn God’s love. Most of the time they don’t even see it and I’m certain they have no idea how to stop. Nonsense! . . . We are the LORD God Almighty, Maker and Sustainer of the Universe! Nothing these little mortals do can make us love them! Because we already do! It’s who we are – eternally. From before it all began until way after it all here ends. We just love. Because we are love. . . . It breaks my heart – our heart – to see them all so locked in their little boxes. Judging themselves. Judging others. Wondering if they do this will that make it right. Thinking if they do that – hide this about themselves, deny that – maybe then they’ll be good enough for our favor. Nonsense! . . . We made them – just as they are. We love them – everyone of them – just as they are. We want them to see themselves and each other – all others – as we see. Precious. Treasured. Valuable to us – every one – because we’re the most just Creators. Parents who have no favorites. Parents who delight in their cherished children each and every day. . . . It grieves me – and God, and the Holy Spirit too – it grieves us deeply when they can’t see it. It breaks our heart when they violate it in themselves and in others too. . . . Why can’t they just accept our gift? Why can’t they fall down in gratitude? Why can’t they just live in joy over the kind of freedom we want to give them all? . . . When – when will they see the beauty of our unearned love for every one? . . . And when, o when, will they enact our merciful love toward themselves and all others?

Likely, those would be the bubble clouds of three main characters of this story as told in the gospel of Luke. Three people with three distinct patterns of thought and three different ways of being because of it. . . . We might just live with the same bubble clouds over us that reflect the content of our own heads and hearts. . . . In the end, may the sentiments of our bubble clouds transform into that of character number three’s. . . . Love, love, love, love. In great thanksgiving, in word and in deed, everyday; may we enact God’s gracious favor to ourselves, to each other, and to all the world forever.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

For What Would You Give Your Life?

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A sermon for 15 March 2015 – 4th Sunday during Lent

John 3:14-21  (text included below)

Before I read from one of the most famous parts of the bible, what with it being plastered all over signs at football games and thrown around as if everyone knows what this “God so loved the world” verse is all about. I want us to set aside everything else we know and love about that verse. I intentionally tried to do that this week as I prepared for this sermon and I invite you to do so now as well. Firstly because we’re Presbyterians. As Christians of the Reformed Theological Family of Faith, we sometimes get pulled off by the rest of the Bible Belt here in Tennessee. So many people around us get stuck in Christianity that’s hyper-focused on who’s going where at the end of it all. I saw a huge billboard in Alabama this weekend shouting it out. As if that’s all that really matters. Always waiting to get somewhere better instead of being present to where we find our feet each day – like Jesus was totally present to whoever crossed his path each day. As those in the Reformed Theological Family of Faith, we don’t need to worry about eternity. We believe God is sovereign and already has that all worked out according to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have to waste one more ounce of mental energy on our future. The Reformed tenets of faith talk about being saved from and saved for something here and now. All that being the case, we can dive a little bit deeper into texts like this one that too many have left to be just about eternity. It’s not that we have to give up any ideas we get about God, ourselves, and the afterlife from John 3; it’s just that as Reformed Theological Christians saved for a particular purpose in this world, I think we need to open ourselves to any other word God’s Spirit might be trying to speak to our lives today. So just for a moment, see if you can forget what we’ve always thought this was all about and listen. Wonder. Let God speak to us afresh today.

A reading from the gospel of John 3:14-21. Remember that this is only the second half of what Jesus is recorded as having said to a leader of Israel, Nicodemus, who steals away at night to see if he can’t figure out more about this Rabbi who is performing remarkable signs among the people. It’s John chapter 3 so it’s near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of John, which is the only gospel that starts Jesus off with a big bang when his mother pushes him to turn over a hundred some gallons of water into a hundred some gallons of the finest wine at a wedding feast in Cana. From the start, the gospel of John frames the ministry of Jesus as one of abundance. The long-awaited feast of the wedding of the bride, which most any Jew should have heard as Israel, and the bridegroom, which most any Jew should have heard as God. The feast the prophets foretold has begun! . . . With all this in mind, listen: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (NRSV)  This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

By a unique turn of events this week, my path crossed ways with that of a young man. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty. I’d seen him before but never really talked with him. You know those people who have that magical twinkle in their eyes? That little sliver of joy and laughter and fun? Well, this boy had none of that. His eyes looked kinda like those of zombies, vacant. Plodding through life, with an aura of emptiness. Just to be friendly, I said I hoped things have been going well for him. Caught a bit off guard, he muttered, “Well no. They really haven’t been.” “O no!” I exclaimed. Sorry to hear that, not just because of whatever he might be going through but also because I felt an unexpected pastoral care session coming on and in all honesty, I really didn’t have the energy for it in that moment. Why I continued to speak – as some of you have experienced of me before, like why did that just have to pop right out of my mouth before my brain had time to catch up with my lips? Anyway, I found myself asking him what’s been going on. He didn’t give me much – just an evasive comment about his family which let me know he really didn’t want to speak of it – probably as shocked at his lips for letting out his worry before his brain had time to stop him. It made a deep impression on me. Because how many people are around us each day, living kinda like that? I’m not sure if some horrible tragedy had befallen his family or if he just had an argument with a parent that morning. It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was his sullen face. His sparkle-less eyes. That aura as if things just really are not ok. As I looked at him, he looked like a young man who was perishing right before my eyes.

I admit it’s one reason why I want us to listen for any other wisdom from the gospel of John today. That, and the fact that I also was reminded this week that neither in the Hebrew language or in Jesus’ native Aramaic tongue does a word exist for either eternity or infinity. They have a word for the ages (as was used in the Ephesians reading today), but nothing like our unfathomable concept of something that goes on forever and ever and ever – like eternal punishment from God. Furthermore, nowhere in the Torah (the first five books of the bible), or in the writings of Paul or of John is a word for hell ever used. The teacher I heard say this claimed he did his fact-checking with several biblical scholars and I know I always was taught of the gospel of John that the word translated into English as eternal – as in eternal life – actually has the sense of a quality of life here and now. More like abundance, life over-flowing with joy and love and peace right in this very moment. Concern for how people are living today. The teacher reminding of this went on to wonder how we ended up with a Christianity that is so incredibly focused on things like heaven, hell, and eternity. He even reminded of a conference in 1998 when the Roman Catholic Pope John Paul the Second wondered what needed to be done to reverse the prominent mis-understanding that heaven and hell are geographical places. Pope John Paul II insisted that both are states of consciousness – not places to be found somewhere in this great big cosmos.  (Information from Richard Rohr lecture:  “Hell No!” 2015.  available from cac.org.)

It’s kinda like what Jesus was trying to explain right here in the gospel of John. That to enter kingdom life, we have to be born-again. Not literally coming back out of our mothers’ wombs as Nicodemus puzzled, but Spirit awakened – stirred, coming upon us – to be aware in a whole new way of the Way of God: the way of self-giving, freely for another. Our own desires dying, for something else to take over. A daily being re-born. It’s a different rule of life or way of living that looks exactly like Christ’s. The one who’s life is the Way – the pattern of the truth for how all life is to be lived. . . . The Apostle Paul will talk about it as a renewing of our minds – a taking on the very Spirit of Christ, which some have called a Christ consciousness; living a new way in this world – a birthing into a different life than before such Spirit-infusion began. Not perishing. Not living condemned already thanks to our own limited awareness. It’s what Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus – the here and now abundant life he’d come to show in full.

That’s the deep, deep love of God. The “For God so loved the world,” that God, in Christ, willingly took on human flesh among us to ensure not a single one of us go through life with sullen faces. Sparkle-less eyes. That aura of emptiness that things just are not and never will be ok – perishing each day as zombies who plod without an ounce of joy through it all. Unaware of how precious we are to God. The Triune God couldn’t stand to see such suffering. And so . . . God, in Christ was born among us. Self-emptying. To live with us to show us the Truth. . . . . It’s what this whole season we’re in now and the season we’re soon to celebrate again is all about. Everything lives and must die before any new life can come again. If we miss it in Jesus – or fail to believe that’s what he’s all about, then maybe we can be sure to see it in the very pattern of all things — God’s gift for us to notice throughout creation and even in ourselves each day and one final day at our end. Or should I say, at our final new beginning?

For God so loved the whole wide world, that God didn’t want us to miss this. God didn’t want us to live in this world as if there is no hope. As if we had to be afraid or always wondering if it all is ok. It’s the very good news we come to know in the living, dying, and living again of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In him, we are indeed set free for abundant life here and now and forevermore. All is well! All is well! It’s the word of Life we have to share with those among us who are perishing right before our eyes.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)