Tag Archives: Richard Rohr

Outside

A Sermon for 20 August 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 15:10-28.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  13Jesus answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”  15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”  16Then Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding?  17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?  18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.  19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  23But Jesus did not answer her at all.  And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  24Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.”

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

 

Fifteen years ago, right after the beginning of the 21st Century, Charles Campbell – then preaching professor at Columbia Theological Seminary and now at Duke Divinity School – wrote these words:  “The church is called intentionally and habitually to move out of the places of security and comfort into those ‘unclean’ places where Jesus suffers ‘outside the gate of the sacred compounds,’ whether those compounds are shaped by religion or class or race or culture.  . . .  Through dislocation, privileged Christians cross the boundaries that keep the privileged and oppressed apart and take a first step toward solidarity . . . which, in a consumer culture, is one way of radically contesting the Domination System” (Charles L. Campbell, The Word before the Powers:  An Ethic of Preaching, WJKP, 2002).  . . .  “The church,” he urged, “intentionally and habitually” is to move outside.  Beyond itself.  Beyond the gates of safety in the land of the known.  Outside to where we will encounter the outsider.  Not just for their benefit, but for the mutual benefit of us all.

What happens when we venture forth outside – outside the familiarity of our typical circle?  Outside the comfort of being among people whom we perceive to be like us?  Outside – beyond the boundaries we tend to keep between ourselves and those who are unknown?  . . .

Look what happened with Jesus.  . . .  Before us today is a timely text.  Religious leaders come from Jerusalem to Jesus in Galilee.  They’re concerned he’s letting his disciples break the traditions of their elders.  Stepping outside the norms of their people as they fail to wash their hands before they eat.  Whether their violation has to do with the act of washing hands before the weekly Sabbath meal, or unclean hands passing out bread and fish to 5,000 men plus women and children at Tabgha; it’s clear.  Tension is building over who does what to show all they are insiders and who does not.

I realize hand washing may seem minute to us today, but the traditions of the elders of Jesus’ people were in place for good reason.  Such rituals were practiced as a part of their culture – the acts that defined them as a people, which was especially important to them when not everyone living around the land was Jewish.  Beside them now were gentiles of Rome, soldiers and supporters who were not of their own kind.  We know there were Samaritans smack dab between Galilee and Jerusalem with whom ancient feuds festered.  And, as we learn in the story of Matthew before us today, not far from their beloved land still lived Canaanites, the original folks dwelling in the land whom their ancestors had driven out.

It’s interesting that the gospel of Matthew describes the woman Jesus soon will encounter as a Canaanite, whereas the gospel of Mark refers to the same woman as a Syrophoenician (Mark 7:26).  You might remember that when God promised the land west of the Jordan River to the Israelites who had been forty years in the wilderness, the people were afraid.  The spies of Israel came back to tell Moses and the people that the land of Canaan was abundant in luscious fruit.  But the inhabitants of the land were fierce, large people.  Not one Israelite had courage enough to enter the land of Canaan because they felt like insignificant “grasshoppers” next to such strong inhabitants (Numbers 13:23-33).  Listeners to Matthew’s telling of the story likely were aware this son of the great King David would be up against a giant as fierce as the one David was up against in Goliath.  A Canaanite woman who was not about to back down was coming after Jesus.  Likely the encounter would not be easy – not even for our Lord.

He went their anyway.  Intentionally.  He dislocated himself and his disciples out of the safety of their known land of Galilee to Tyre and Sidon, where non-Israelites lived.  Roman port cities on the eastern Mediterranean in Jesus’ day, Jesus may have known of the great spiritual hunger in the people of that land.  According to the gospel of Mark (3:8) and the gospel of Luke (6:17); early in his ministry, people from Tyre and Sidon came to Jesus for healing.  Traveling now to them, seemingly intentionally after friction between him and Jerusalem’s religious leaders; it could not have been possible that Jesus believed he’d go unnoticed.  . . .  Silence is his first response to the fierce mother calling out for her daughter’s life.  His disciples definitely do not want to get involved.  It’s hard to reconcile the racially charged exchanges here in this story.  Though he’s intentionally traveled outside, Jesus tells his disciples he’s been sent only for those lost in the house of Israel (Mt. 15:24).  Was he trying to set up a powerful object lesson for his listeners?  Or was Jesus really not yet clear that there was food enough for those outside of their own house as well?  The text never really clarifies.  What we do learn is that encounter matters.  When that momma, whose daughter has been tormented, throws herself at Jesus’ feet, her request cannot be denied.  When she will not allow her need to go unnoticed, Jesus sees past any outward appearance into a heart that firmly trusts that grace is big enough to include her too.  It is as if the encounter leaves all understanding that something deeper binds us.  Pain is pain.  Tears are tears.  Furious mother love is furious mother love whoever you are.  No matter the language you speak.  The race with which you identify.  Or the land from where you come.  Something deeper binds us one to another.  O for a world in which we all finally would see.

In a meditation taken from A New Way of Seeing, A New Way of Being:  Jesus and Paul, Richard Rohr writes:  “It is an openness to the other – as other – that frees us . . . It is always an encounter with otherness that changes me.  If I am not open to the beyond-me, I’m in trouble.  Without the other, we are all trapped in a perpetual hall of mirrors that only validates and deepens our limited and already existing worldviews.  When there is the encounter with the other, when there is mutuality, when there is presence, when there is giving and receiving, and both are changed in that encounter; that is the moment when you can begin to move toward transformation . . . – to ‘change forms.’  When you allow other people or events to change you, you look back at life with new and different eyes.  That is the only real meaning of human growth.”  Rohr goes on by writing:  “One could say that the central theme of the biblical revelation is to call people to encounters with otherness:  the alien, the sinner, the Samaritan, the Gentile, the hidden and denied self, angels unaware.  And all of these are perhaps in preparation and training for hopeful meetings with the Absolute Other (with God).  We need practice in moving outside of our comfort zones.  It is never a natural or easy response” (Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation:  “Intimate with Otherness;” from Center for Action & Contemplation; 14 August 2014).

It certainly doesn’t seem an easy encounter for Jesus and his disciples.  It won’t always be for us either.  And yet we go.  We dis-locate ourselves outside ourselves to encounter whoever we might meet.  We go, trusting the Absolute Other to bless us all.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (all rights reserved.)

 

The With-us Potter

A Sermon for 4 September 2016

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 18:1-11. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

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

 

I wish we each had a lump of clay in our hands today. That would be the best way to spend some time with this text from the prophet Jeremiah. All of you sitting there with a ball of the soft stuff. Squeezing and kneading and working it in your hands. . . . If you’ve ever held clay before, then you know that it has such potential. It can become anything you want it to be: a pinch pot, which typically is the first thing you learn to make in a pottery class. A long snake of clay that you then can wind together into a flower vase. You can flatten it out in your hands as thin as a pancake in attempts to make a plate. Tear it into smaller bits to fashion little balls for earrings or even into the shape of a cross for a necklace.

Throwing a pot is a bit different. First you have to work the clay. Push down one way, then turn it to force it down the other direction. It’s kinda like warm up stretches before running. You’ve gotta get the clay ready before you put it on the wheel. It’s a process of moving around the molecules and getting out any air. In pottery class, they always said this is the most important step, which never ever should be skipped, even though so many novice potters wanna get right to the wheel. . . . After you have your clay ready, you finally take it to the wheel. Water and equal pressure on both sides are key – it’s what is needed to center the clay. Something you have to get right if the clay’s gotta a shot of becoming anything. Next, cutting into the centered clay, all the while keeping the wheel turning at a slow and easy pace. Too fast and the clay goes spinning out of control. Too little or too much water and the clay won’t form as you’d like in your hands. Too much pressure too quickly from one hand or the other and the next thing you know, the clay is collapsing between your fingers. Your intended beautiful bowl falls into a misshapen mess. . . . It’s fascinating to watch a master potter at work – and if you’ve ever attempted it yourself, you know it’s no where near as easy as it looks!

A lot of potters will tell you you have to listen to the clay. Let it tell you what it wants to become. . . . But not according to this text! According to Jeremiah, the potter has a good plan for what the potter wishes to make. That clay in the potter’s hands has an intended purpose. . . . I remember the pottery instructor always saying that to create on the wheel, you have to be willing to let go. Fail and begin again when the clay wobbles off center out of the form needed for a bowl. It’s not really that there’s only one way to make it, but it is the case that a pot thrown with too thick a bottom or too thin a wall won’t last the firing in the kiln. When the clay goes array on the wheel, it’s better to scoop it off to begin again because once it begins to set out of form, the clay will be wasted entirely. No use at all when it breaks in the scorching fires of the kiln.

It’s a mighty metaphor for our lives in God’s hands. . . . At God’s command, Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house to hear a word from the LORD. He sees a potter at work. A typical potter who’s obviously mature in his craft. For the potter doesn’t hesitate one moment when the clay spins off track. He scoops it up to begin again. He’s not about to waste his clay. I’d imagine that potter Jeremiah was watching had been through quite a process to get that lump of clay in the first place. I don’t know everything about where you get clay and what all the right ingredients have to be, but I know clay is found in certain parts of the ground. The potter either paid a high price for his clay, or did the hard work himself of digging for it. Each piece is precious to the potter. If it all goes array, he’s going to scoop it up to re-work, re-center, and begin to create again. He’s a committed master potter, who’s not afraid to let go of what it’s become because he wants the clay to be what he knows it can be.

The process is a little scary, however, when we start to understand ourselves as the clay. That’s what Jeremiah is hearing as he sees the potter at work. The house of Israel is in the process of going array. It’s an act of love that God won’t just let it be, though the words the prophet hears seem kinda harsh. “Can I not do with you . . . just as the potter has done? . . . Just like the clay in the potter’s hands, says the LORD, I can pluck up and restart” (paraphrase of Jer. 18:6, 7). All this talk about disaster on those devising evil. We don’t really want to face this seemingly harsh-sounding God. It sounds so like: turn or else! A threat with punishment if not heeded – which doesn’t fit so well with our warm-fuzzy notions of God. And actually it isn’t the best way to bring about true, sustained transformation.

What we do know is that this is the same God, through Jeremiah, who says to the people: “For surely I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 28:11). A few chapters later, God declares: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33-34). . . . Like the master potter, God has a plan for the people’s good use. When the clay goes array on the wheel, when the people turn from who God intends for them to be; like the master potter, God will re-work the vessel as seems good to God.

If you’re familiar with the work of Brené Brown, then you may know about her research on shame and the power of vulnerability – acts that take a whole lot of trust. The first thing Brown underscores is that all of us have a need for love and belonging. Shame leaves us feelings as if we’re not worthy of such love and belonging, which in turn makes it really hard for us to be willing to be vulnerable – to be willing to trust. Brown’s research testifies that: one powerful way to send a message of shame, which leads to one being stuck immobile, is to disengage. No longer be involved with someone when their behavior is unacceptable. Refuse the healthy act of engagement by setting proper boundaries with them. According to Brown, when we fail to do so – to set those proper healthy boundaries, it actually creates a deeper sense of shame in the other. Disengaging sends the message that you’re not worthy of a sense of love and belonging from me. . . . Do you hear the truth in that? The worst possible thing the potter could do to the clay when it goes array is to let it go array. Disengage from the process and just let it be. Scooping it up to re-work, re-center, and re-create again may be a process that really hurts – a process that seems like destroying. Plucking up and breaking down in order to re-build and plant may sound kinda vicious; but with the clay, the potter stays engaged all the while. The potter sends the message to the clay that it is so entirely valued, so deeply loved, that the potter just won’t let it go into whatever the clay itself might want to be. For surely the potter knows the plans the potter has for it . . . plans for the clay’s welfare – not harm – to give an amazing future overflowing with hope.

We are the clay – not just us individually, as we so often read into this text – but us collectively as a part of the body of Christ, the church. And the Master Potter seeks to re-create us into what is needed today in this world. It’s not easy to know what exactly that will look like. After all, the clay being re-worked doesn’t know if it’s going to end up a beautiful bowl that will be able to feed those who hunger; or an amazing cup that will quench all those who thirst. The process is a mystery that takes all of our trust. . . . It has been said that “we are not so at home with the resurrected form of things despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, and the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and life . . . resurrection offers us a future . . . one that is unknown and thus scary. . . . (it’s not a) resuscitation of an old thing, but the raising up of . . . an utterly new thing” (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, 2013, pp. x-xi). In this we can trust. For a Master Potter holds us every step of the way. Indeed our Loving God continues with us until all things are entirely new! For this we give great thanks!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Our Crosses

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!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 1 March 2015 – Second Sunday During the Season of Lent

Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+8:31-38

It’s Lent, so I guess public confession is good.  Here goes. Someone really hurt my feelings last week. Don’t worry – it wasn’t anyone connected to the church!  It was something someone else I know said to me, about me, last week. And it hurt. My ego got bumped. I got mad.   . . .  Am I the only one this ever happens to?   . . .  For at least the first two days, I wanted to call up my best friends and trash talk. Tell them all about it. Point fingers at the person who said what they said. Get them on my side about it all just so I would be justified.   . . .  Seriously: am I the only one stuff like this ever happens to?   I don’t think so, though I realize some of us are further along on the continuum regarding such things.

Recently I heard a beloved, deep-on-the-journey spiritual leader talk about it on national television. The interviewer asked him something about him living each day in the flow or absolute love of God. And he confessed that though he writes and talks eloquently about the absolute love of God – the Ground of our very being, sometimes he’s there. But not always. And some weeks not even every day. This is someone who has devoted his life to daily silence, scripture reading, study, communal living, and prayer. He’s sought after worldwide for in-person lectures. His printed works sell millions and his visual and audio recordings are bringing life to Christians all across the globe. And still, after nearly fifty years of the practice, he claims his own ego still gets bumped. People say things or do things that rub him wrong and before he knows it, he feels that pain. Now, thanks to his daily, life-long practices, he admits such annoyances come and go fairly quickly for him now – even things like getting cut off in traffic. Anyone get all worked up about that? But he doesn’t have that urge to call up BFFs to tell them all about it. And he doesn’t stew either –as the less verbal among us tend to do, right? Just soaking in our juices. Fuming about what so and so did or said that really got our goat.

It’s the first thing that comes to mind from Jesus’ words of the gospel of Mark. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It would be easy to keep such words way back then in history. Thinking about Peter, James, and John literally having to give up the regular ways of their lives to follow Jesus around Galilee before finally heading to Jerusalem. But the message isn’t just for those long ago. It’s for every last one of us. Today. In the real stuff of our lives.

If you were at Wednesday night to see it, or watched the link of the video we email blasted (click here to watch it:   https://vimeo.com/116071300) that was by the Barna Group about their findings regarding the unchurched, then you might remember that one of the major hurdles to Christianity today is that the unchurched, or church-less as they were calling them, cannot see any distinctive difference between how they are living their lives and how most of us church people are living ours. Ouch! The research showed that other than us being in worship sometimes on Sundays, for the most part, the daily lives and choices of most American Christians do not look all that different from the daily lives and choices of the church-less. Chilling, isn’t it? Because the One we claim to follow was pretty clear that we are not to be living the same as everyone else. In a world of rampant consumerism, self-absorbed self-interest, and escalating violence; we should stand out. It should be seen that we give of at least a portion of our time, talents, and money not for our own pleasure but for the benefit of others. It should be seen that we curb our appetites for more, more, more. It should be seen that, if nowhere else in this world, at least among us Christians forgiveness is genuinely practiced – love for all no matter what is the norm. All those good fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). It should be seen that we’re not about us and them but about one, beloved human family. One, united creation actually, that all is sacred unto God.   . . .  As an example to demonstrate his point, the Barna researcher spoke of an ancient practice of God’s people that can be incredibly relevant for today: keeping Sabbath. True rest as a creature in our amazing Creator without all our techno-gadgets. The point being that if others see us able to use, but not be addicted to our screens, like actually NOT all being on our smartphones as we sit at a meal in a restaurant. You’ve seen that, right? Dad taking a work call. Mom searching the web for something, and little Christian children playing whatever app they’re playing when the server comes to take their order. Sabbath just one day a week – or one hour if the consideration of one full day causes you an immediate sense of panic. Stopping from life like that, to rest in the natural beauty of this world. Truly connecting with one another face-to-face and even with our God; well, that would be one way to be an authentic witness today of denying ourselves to follow after the principles of another.

Our crosses might not look like the bloody devices of torture used by Rome to put to death anyone seeking to incite the people against their ways. Our crosses might look like practicing daily meditation so that we’re not as attached to the bumps and bruises of our egos. Steeping ourselves in the words and actions of Christ that the ways we interact with others blare with mercy and kindness and grace. The sacrifice of our own hidden agendas are seen by our colleagues out there in the world and even in here in the church. Not being doormats for everyone else to walk all over. Being our best selves in God by losing how we always want it to be for the sake of God’s grander vision to grow.

You know, the one who says to follow didn’t have to show up here in this world and live the kind of life he did. Jesus could have gone about his little carpenter life – eking out a living for the benefit of his own family. Keeping his unique worldview and talents to himself. He could have had year after year of his life used up just by getting by each day – trying merely to make it from sunup to sundown accomplishing the duties laid upon him by his business and family and friends. Or by making and taking more for himself, even at the expense of others. But he didn’t, did he? Which is why we know anything about him at all – this man who was truly one of us and yet truly of God as well. He turned to the Spirit. He gave space enough for God’s truth to grow in him. He enjoyed others – cherishing them, not trying to figure out how they could benefit himself. He quieted his own wants – probably by the times he daily stole off to be alone in prayer with God – until his only want was summed up in that amazing prayer in the garden: “Thy will be done, O God. Thy will.” That’s the way he was God with us. Showing us how to be Godlike in the world today.   . . .  With all the clamor and concern about how to live well these days, why do we look anywhere else but to the life of Jesus, the Christ?

“Those who want to save their own life,” he said, “will lose it.” But those who lose their life – giving up their own selves each day, like him? Those already know real Life! The point of it all.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Looking to Follow

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!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 18 January 2015 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Click here to read scripture first:   John 1:29-51 (NRS)

Recently I heard a spiritual teacher (Richard Rohr) tell about the two different kinds of people that exist in this world. Type number one are those of certitude. Those with whom you never want to lock horns. You know what I mean. Type one people ALWAYS are right. They know for SURE what they believe they know for sure. Like concrete that solidifies fast in the mold, type one folks cling ferociously to what they believe to be the truth. It’s even worse when they think they know everything for sure! We’re not bad people as type ones. But we’re probably driving most everyone around us a little mad. Because type oners are convinced they know what’s right – and they usually think only one way can be right. There’s no need to hear any other perspective when you’re a type one. No need to do a little self-reflection to admit our own biases. We’re absolutely certain we’re right – no shred of doubt. But, if we did enough digging, we’d probably discover that type oners really are filled with doubt. It’s why they have to keep such a red-knuckled grip on it all. Rock bottom, type one people of certitude are drowning in a sea of fear. Their certainty acts like the life-saver that keeps them afloat and out of the realm of deep consciousness where all sorts of scary things lie lurking in the shadows. That’s type one people of certitude.

The opposite type, type two, are those open to the mystery of life. Those who know they do not know. They look at the world in such a different way. Unlike type one that has to be certain, type two tends to live a little and let that living influence their perspectives on it all. They greet the world with a warm embrace – ready to experience whatever unfolds on the journey. They’re open to meeting new people, hearing new thoughts, wondering about everything instead of quickly coming to decisive conclusions. They tend to be a bit more on the adventurous side and when the petals are peeled away, two fragrances generally are released: that of love and that of trust. At rock bottom they’re not as concerned about being right because they know they are held. Loved in this great big cosmos by something that always eventually bends toward the good. It’s true type twos sometimes can find themselves lost in a forest of confusion. So it might actually be good to have a little bit of type one’s assurance woven into the fabric of being so open to the mystery of living. A bit more balance might be needed between both. . . . The fascinating thing is that too much of Christian history has teetered over to the side of type ones, when what Jesus really seems to be about is bringing into community a whole lot more type twos.

Just look at the story we encounter in the gospel of John today. “Come and see, come and see, come and see,” we keep hearing. Those aren’t words for ones, but for twos. Actually, I’ve been wondering this week about how many people of absolute certitude Jesus might have called from the start of his ministry. Maybe there were others but because their minds already were 100% certain about everything in this world, we never have heard their names or learned their stories. Instead from the start they responded: “No thank you, Jesus, I’ve no need to see what you might be up to. I already have this thing with God all figured out!” . . . Not so with the men first named in John’s gospel. Andrew. Simon, his brother, who Jesus quickly named Cephas, Peter: the Rock. Philip. And Nathanael too. Come and see! Come and see! Come and see! . . . According to the gospel of John, the first words out of the mouth of the Messiah, the eternal Word embodied in this one from Nazareth called Jesus. The first words the eternal, embodied Word speaks according to the gospel of John are a question. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). It’s an interesting word to first speak as one of us in this world; for it almost sounds as if our search has become of utmost importance to the Holy One.

What are you looking for? How might we answer that question. . . . I spent the better part of the past 2 and a half days at a Circle of Trust retreat. It’s the Courage Work Parker Palmer created to bring strangers together to listen one another deeper into the Spirit’s desire for our whole-hearted living. It’s the first of 4 seasonal retreats to be held throughout 2015 and it all began Thursday night with the question: What question is rising up in your life now? But I heard it as: what are you looking for now?  . . .  Peace from the hectic life we’re living these days? Security in a world where those dead-set in their certitude keep trying to destroy others? Restoration from the aches and pains of aging bodies? Hope where it all seems hopeless? Connection with One that has been Life for us all along our journey? . . . The first two disciples respond to Jesus’ question by saying: “Teacher, where are you staying?” There’s that whole play here in this story on staying and remaining and coming along to see (John 1:38-39). . . . What were they looking for? Someone who might turn their lives around – even if they really could NOT imagine the ride they were in for. They’re going to see amazing things – stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love if only they will leave their current comfort zones to follow where – who – they cannot yet know. Come and see. Come and see. Come and see.

You’re aware, I hope, that here in this congregation we’re doing this thing called The Vital Church. The other night after what I’d like to think was a thought-provoking presentation, a few folks were antsy about doing more. You know that since the days you all undertook New Beginnings in 2010, this church has been in a time of seeking to clarify your vision for future ministry. I think it’s getting a lot clearer than it was a few years ago. You have begun ministries in the community like assistance to those in need through snack bags to the local elementary school and dollars that you give face to face to those coming here in need of help with utilities or medicines or rent. You’ve been earning a name in the community with the annual Craft Fair and the music ministries to the senior living facility next door and beyond. I’m probably missing something that has been a new focus for you all in the past few years, but all these are the ways you all have been following Jesus anew into the world. It’s wonderful! . . . And now a few of you are telling me you want to do more. Part of the shift in 21st Century Christianity is go out to meet the neighbors and there’s rumor that some of you have decided you are heading next door to the senior living facility this week to get to know the neighbors there. To see if they might desire the kind of loving, caring family so many of the rest of you treasure among one another. Come and see Jesus is saying to us . . . see what stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love we might experience with those living right across the street if only we would leave our current comfort zones to meet up with Jesus over there. I hope you will make an effort to join in. Every member and friend is invited to be a part of this endeavor. And if you don’t have time to give to this attempt to get out there, then I hope you at least will be ready to greet any new people if in fact they show up here, across their street. . . . We cannot know how it all will turn out or where it all might take this church. We only can trust the One who is hoping and praying we’re type number twos: open to the mystery of how the journey will unfold. Even if a bit timid or filled with swirling doubts, willing to greet the world of our neighbors with a warm embrace. Ready to enjoy an unimaginable ride! You’re all invited: come and see!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Recognizing the King

23 November 2014 – Christ the King Sunday

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!
RevJule
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Click here to read scripture first: Matthew 25:31-46 (NRS)

Remember the opening scene of the show Camelot? If you’re not familiar with it, let me tell you about it. King Arthur is all alone in the woods. He’s hiding out, actually, because he’s scared. Guinevere, is soon to be arriving. His new wife, which will make her the new queen of Camelot. Merlin, his mentor, comes looking for him. He tries to reassure Arthur that it all will be all right. Though Merlin has seen some sort of thing ahead with a valiant knight called Lancelot. King Arthur goes on to sing that song as if he’s his subjects on the eve of their king’s wedding: “I wonder what the king is doing tonight? . . . He’s scared!” Arthur answers back! No sooner does the audience applause die down, than in rushes Guinevere. The king hides out as she sings her plea to her patron saint to save her from this terrible turn of events: being in a land far from home in which she really doesn’t want to be and becoming the wife of a king she really doesn’t want to marry, just because her father worked out the arrangements to strengthen ties between their countries. When finally Arthur comes down out of the tree, Guinevere continues to tell of her terrible fate and how she has run away to ensure it never will come to pass. She’s looking right into the face of the man she doesn’t want to marry, but she doesn’t recognize him. That was the days before the paparazzi plastered photos of celebrities everywhere. And it’s not like Arthur had a way to do a selfie to tweet or text to her in advance. She doesn’t know he’s the king – until a soldier of his guard comes looking for Guinevere. Seeing the king, the man bows to the ground in recognition of his sovereign. Suddenly Guinevere understands. This is the face of the king she is to marry. She finally recognizes the identity of the one standing before her.

It’s ironic, of course, that this king isn’t recognized in his own land – and by the woman who is to be his queen, no less. But it wasn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last that a king goes undetected. In his final teaching, at least according to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells too about a King that too often is not recognized. Ironically, he’s talking about himself and the way in which all the nations will be able to see him. It’s a parable of sorts about the long awaited Son of Man finally coming among the people. The prophet Daniel had foretold such a son. One who would save the people from the way their lives had come to be. Everyone will be gathered together, the story goes. And as was done each night in Israel by the shepherds, sheep and goats will be separated. Shepherds brought the goats together back then – most often bedding them for the night in a cave where their collective body heat could keep all the goats warm. Sheep on the other hand, with their woolly coats could sleep scattered out on the hillside if they wanted to. For the sake of the goats, actually, the shepherd had to separate them in order for goats to survive the cold of the night. The funny thing is: the separator in Jesus’ story is a king. One that will treat like his own heirs those who have recognized him.

It’s possible we’ve heard this story from Jesus so many times that it no longer has the impact it most certainly had upon his first hearers. It had been a really long time – if ever – that the people knew a king that fed the hungry and made sure the thirsty had water to drink. That outsider strangers were welcomed in and those unable to put a stitch upon their own bodies were given clothing. The sick often were left to be tended by women who most of the month already were considered unclean. And the worst thing in the world was to be carted off by the king’s soldiers to be imprisoned for whatever unjust infraction you might have been accused of. Kings didn’t mess with those kind of people. The kings Jesus’ listeners knew were the Roman king Augustus, the Caesar and Herod Antipas who often was also referred to as a king. It wasn’t in the face of one in need you were to recognize those kings. They were recognized in their great might. In the massive building projects they undertook. In Rome’s fierce army and their ability to keep you in check through fear. These kings of Jesus’ day weren’t seeing to the needs of their subjects. They were seeing to the security of their own interests. They were crushing common folks into allegiance with crippling taxes and threats of death. Jesus is speaking of a different kind of kingdom. Ruled by a drastically different king.

We’ve not always been good at recognizing this in the church. Which is a goodly part of why in the 1920s the Franciscan order of brothers overtured the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church to establish a holy feast day called Christ the King of the Universe. The world just had witnessed the kings around the earth clashing in a cataclysmic war to end all wars: World War I. In fine Christian lands, Christ was not being recognized as the King of compassion. Instead, folks were acting a whole lot more like Caesar and Herod of Jesus’ day. Christian history often has gone astray in such a way. Which is why the Franciscans wanted Christ the King of the Universe Sunday to become a regular part of our faith traditions. It really was in the 1960s after Vatican 2 that Christ the King Sunday gained any sort of universal recognition. So that you and I are like 2nd generation Christ the King Christians – though I realize many of us may not be all that familiar with the high holy day. One contemporary Franciscan reminds us that Christ has been the King of the Universe from the start. He’s the Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet). And will be the King of the Universe at the end. He’s the Omega too (or that last letter of the Greek alphabet). In one of the most helpful explanations of Christ the King that I have heard, we’re reminded that Christ, or the eternal Logos, was part of God from the start. The pattern or blueprint of God that came to be materialized. In other words, the part of God that came to inhabit matter. To show us what God is all about. To show us the way that rules the universe from beginning until the end (Richard Rohr, http://cac.org/images/MP3s/RRHomily-2012_11_25-Christ-VBR.mp3). That very same way that Jesus, the Christ, was about in his life, death, and resurrection.

And just in case we wouldn’t remain clear about where to recognize this King, Christ; Jesus tells us to look into the face of those around us. Especially those in the deepest need. It’s pretty radical to claim that the eternal God, King of the universe, sovereign Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of it all can be found most definitely in one consistent place. In the face of those who are fed, watered, welcomed, clothed, and healed. Now who ever would expect a King to reside there?! . . . It’s why we’re to be about such ministries. Face to face, not just writing checks for them. Twice this week I heard stories from members of this church about following this command of Christ. I could see it in the eyes of both of you as you talked. If we allow ourselves to be, we are changed when we come face to face with feeding someone who is hungry, or giving drink to one who thirsts. When we welcome someone who was a stranger to us, our lives are opened a little bit wider to the ways God lives and works in this world. It’s always good to help because another has a need; but according to Jesus’ story, that’s not quite why we’re to jump into action. Such service changes us. It allows us to see God living in another – even if we sometimes have to look rather deeply to recognize. Or maybe peer around parts of a person we’re pretty sure God would never inhabit. If we dare enough to see – maybe even to have our minds opened a little bit further to who God is – we’ll find ourselves standing before the King. And if in that moment we’re quiet enough, we might just hear: “Well done good and faithful servant. Today, you’ve entered my kingdom!”

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

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)