May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Today’s Gospel tells of a dishonest manager.
That’s literally what the story is known as in Christian circles:
“the story of the dishonest manager.”
It’s a story that Jesus tells to his disciples.
And in true Jesus form:
It’s a story that’s hard to follow in one reading:
So let’s sum it up.
The dishonest manager convinces all of the vendors who owe his employer
money to falsify their invoices,
So that it appears that they owe the master less than what they do.
He’s thinking ahead:
If he does the vendors a favor now by making it seem like they owe less than they
Then maybe they’ll be more likely to do him a favor:
Like give him a job once he gets fired for corruption.
This could totally be a story in a news headline today.
A guy, who schemes out others, to make himself look better.
But here’s where it gets weird:
Jesus: the Son of God:
Praises this corrupt manager!
He even says:
make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
So, is that it? Is the point here that Jesus wants us to be deceitful?
Are we called to cheat others when our own neck is on the line?
What is going on here?
There are a couple of possibilities.
First, at least part of what Jesus is trying to say is that just as the Body of Christ is
not only about hands and feet,
So too the body of Christ is not only about the heart.
It’s also about the brain:
It’s about thinking and thinking critically.
Without the ability to think critically and share our expertise with others,
no amount of passion or money or creativity will bring our goals to a reality.
In praising the manager, Jesus is not praising his dishonesty;
he is praising his shrewdness and creativity.
He’s praising the manager’s ability to utilize his capacity for critical thinking as a
tool for building up the Body of Christ and bringing about the Kingdom of God.
And you know, that’s hard to hear,
Jesus praising a man who committed a fraud.
But here’s another piece of Good News:
Towards the end of the reading, we hear Jesus say this:
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;
and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,
who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is kind of confusing stuff.
At first, we might want to use these words to indict the manager for his
He has been dishonest in his dealings.
He obviously cannot be trusted with true riches.
But perhaps there is another possibility.
For every reason that we have to condemn the manager,
there is an equally important reason to forgive him.
The manager is:
To use Jesus’ words:
“dishonest in a very little,”
but can we really be so sure that he is not also faithful in very little, too?
Are not we all a complicated mixture of faithfulness and frustration;
of dishonesty and determination?
Perhaps the manager was a good father;
a faithful and loving husband.
Maybe he took care of the yard for his aging neighbors and shared fresh
vegetables from his garden with the widow across the street.
When we find ourselves caught off guard by someone’s immoral or unethical
especially when we’re on the receiving end of it--
we have a tendency to second-guess the sincerity of every single word they’ve
and doubt the intentions behind every single action they’ve ever done,
in an effort to insulate ourselves from the pain of being wronged.
Then after agonizing over and second-guessing every last detail of a relationship,
we begin to think of the person who committed the immoral or unethical
not as a person who made a mistake,
but as a bad person.
And when we change the conversation from being about questionable behavior
into a conversation about personhood,
when we reduce them to being a bad person,
they become disposable—unworthy of our concern,
and certainly undeserving of our forgiveness.
Jesus’ praise of the manager is not an endorsement of unethical behavior;
his praise of the manager is an affirmation of his personhood;
of his identity as a beloved—although broken—part of the Body of Christ,
and a builder of the Kingdom of God.
So perhaps what Jesus is teaching us is that words matter.
Perhaps he’s reminding us that critical thinking is a part of Christian life.
And at the end of the day, perhaps Jesus is calling us to second-guess ourselves;
to re-evaluate our presuppositions and judgments.
Because when we do that--
when we err on the side of mercy and forgiveness--
the Kingdom becomes just a little bigger,
and the Body of Christ becomes just a little stronger.
It’s not every day that we read nearly an entire book of the Bible in church.
And today, we do:
The book of Philemon:
Almost the whole entire thing.
And it’s a book that you might not have even heard of!
It only appears once in our three year lectionary:
And many often skip over it.
And while I usually preach on the Gospel:
It seems worth it to take a closer look at Philemon:
And do a sort of mini-bible study,
Since we get the whole book today.
And this little tiny book packs a pretty real punch:
That we, the church, need to hear.
Even I didn’t know that much about Philemon.
I had to do some serious research on this little book:
And I learned a lot that’s worth sharing.
Philemon is one of the shortest books in the bible, only behind the letters of first, second, and third John.
This little book, is one of Paul’s letters.
But it’s unique, because it’s written to an individual.
In most of Paul’s letters, he’s writing to a community, a church:
Like the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus….
But Philemon is an individual person.
And like the rest of Paul’s letters:
We just have one side of the conversation.
Paul’s letters are a little like overhearing a person’s phone call:
Just hearing one side:
Where we can make out the main point of the conversation,
But we don’t know what the other person is saying:
And we might not even know why the call was made in the first place!
There’s a lot about the letter to Philemon that’s a mystery.
But at the same time, we can learn a lot with a careful reading.
First, we see that Paul knows and loves Philemon.
We can also see that Philemon has a church in his home:
(and most churches in the first generations of the church were house churches.)
Since Philemon even HAD a house, we might guess that he was fairly wealthy.
And then, as we read further,
We learn that Philemon actually is wealthy, because he owned a slave.
That slave’s name is O-NEE-si-mus.
And the meat of this short letter is about Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, and their relationships to one another.
Paul writes to Philemon:
Letting him know that Onesimus is with him,
And he asks Philemon to take Onesimus back, and welcome him as a brother rather than a slave.
Now, at the time of this letter, Paul is in prison:
And how Onesimus got to Paul is unknown.
Historians have suggested a few scenarios:
The first is that Philemon, the slave owner:
Sent his slave Onesimus to Paul who was in prison for greetings or supplies.
Maybe even with a letter!
The second, is that Onesimus escaped from Philemon:
Maybe in search of Paul,
Or maybe in search of freedom.
In this letter, we see that Onesimus has made his way to Paul:
He’s been converted to Christianity:
And now Paul is sending him back to Philemon:
As a brother in Christ:
No longer a slave.
And with Christ:
Our relationships change.
Just like in today’s Gospel.
Those difficult words from Luke:
About Hating mother and father, sister, and brother, wife, and children…
Jesus is describing the cost of discipleship.
The cost of discipleship that changes our relationships:
Changes our allegiances:
Because following Jesus means we must renounce other allegiances.
As we read the letter to Philemon:
We see those allegiances change:
We see family dynamics change.
We see ownership of slaves and masters, fathers and sons, change:
We see that the only dynamics and allegiances that matter:
Are those of God and the Christian family.
In reading the letter, it’s clear that Paul has great affection for Onesimus.
He says that he has become Onesimus’ father.
The relationships are changed.
And it’s interesting because it seems that Paul is also something of a spiritual father to Philemon as well.
Paul even alludes to the fact that he brought Philemon to faith.
The relationships are changed.
SO: Being the sort of Christian “father” of both Philemon and Onesimus:
Paul urges Philemon to receive the returned Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother.
The relationships are different now.
Whether they like it or not:
They’re a family.
A family in Christ.
A family in baptism.
And their relationships to one another are totally changed from before.
Paul, through the relationships that have been forged through Jesus Christ:
Is overturning slavery for Onesimus.
And we see in this letter to Philemon,
Three people in a new relationship because of Jesus Christ:
A relationship that moves across the seemingly insurmountable barrier of slave and master.
We don’t know if Philemon obeyed Paul or not.
But we have the letter:
Which means that the church:
Guided by the Holy Spirit:
Thinks that what this letter has to say is worthwhile:
And even descriptive of what a Christian life should look like.
It’s too bad that we don’t have the next letter from Philemon back to Paul:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
There’s a story:
About a wise communications professor,
who had her students engage in an exercise about observation.
She handed out a picture of an elderly man sitting on some front steps.
A young woman stood to his right:
Looking down toward him:
And a child stood in front:
Facing both of them.
The professor asked the students what they thought was happening in the
“The child and woman are caring for the old man.”
“The child is listening to a story while the mother watches.”
“Maybe they are just passing the time waiting for someone to come out of the
All sorts of stories came up until the professor finally told them what was going
on in the picture.
“The elderly man and the young woman are listening to the child telling them
She said: “Look! All of the signs are there:
The way the young woman is fondly looking down toward not just the old man:
But specifically at the child.
The man is watching the child intently.
Notice the child’s hands?
They are spread out away from the body:
And the child is leaning toward the two adults:
As if the child is emphasizing something and there are big smiles on their faces!”
The professor concluded:
“Communication is happening all the time:
We just have to pay attention to the signs.
We must be watchful and alert like Sherlock Holmes:
Noticing things that in normal life we often gloss over.”
The professor’s lesson is a lot like Jesus’ lesson in today’s Gospel reading.
Paying attention to the signs:
Being ready. Prepared:
Dressed for action with the lamps lit.
Are part of cultivating the Kingdom of God.
It’s part of the Christian life.
And we communicate our faith in our actions and words.
(By showing where our treasure is)
And also watching for where God is:
(Waiting for the master to return from the banquet)
We must ask ourselves whether or not we are being intentional about both of
Like the professor in the story said:
We are communicating all the time.
The question is:
“What are we saying as a Christian people?”
“What are we communicating to others? Christian or not?”
Whether or not we think anybody is listening:
God hears us:
And that is the most important measure of all.
It reminds me of the book of Isaiah:
Which we hear a lot from during Advent:
A season of waiting, preparation and readiness.
Conveys God’s message to the people:
A message and a call to repentance.
God has been watching the messages that they have been sending:
The messages they’ve been sending through their patterns of living:
Of giving lip service through their prayers:
Their sacrifices that were not really sacrificial.
The festivals that held little meaning to the heart.
God saw a people who were glossing over the work of the soul.
And the effects were detrimental to the society.
They committed acts of evil.
They did not seek after justice.
The most marginalized in Israelite society—the orphans and widows--
They were not prepared.
They were not paying attention.
They were not noticing this signs all around them.
We might look at this and think:
How little have we learned?
In our modern society:
We can hear God crying out through the oppressed:
Through the orphans whose parents have been killed by the evil of gun violence:
Through the refugee widows of wars in foreign lands:
And through the sacred places that have been violated by another’s judgment.
The signs are all there:
And God is calling out to us:
Be dressed for action!
Have your lamps lit!
Be ready to do your part!”
Are we willing?
Are we ready?
Do we have the depth of faith to answer the call?
The questions are difficult:
And the answers take courage.
And it’s even more difficult and courageous than we like to admit.
Who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II said:
“The church is the only cooperative society in the world:
That exists for the benefit of its non-members.”
Think about that.
We exist to benefit non-members.
We exist to benefit the people who are not us.
According to our Catechism:
Which is in the back of the Prayer Book:
Our assurance as Christians is:
“That NOTHING not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This assurance gives us the faith to share this promise with others:
Those who are the reason we exist:
Those non members.
And our Baptismal Covenant reinforces this:
When it asks us to persevere in resisting evil,
To repent and return to the lord:
Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ:
To seek and serve Christ in all persons:
To strive for justice and peace among ALL people:
Respecting the dignity of every human being.
It’s a tall order.
But we don’t have to strive alone:
We have God and each other.
But sometimes looking outside our walls is overwhelming.
Sometimes we don’t know where to begin:
Sometimes, we’re like the people that Isaiah was lamenting about.
Most of all:
It is sometimes difficult to interpret those messages that we keep watch for:
It’s hard to interpret those moments from ordinary life like the elderly man and
Listening to the child.
And even harder to listen to God.
If we’re really faithful,
If we’re really willing to observe and listen to God:
We’ll finally be able to see the Him in the normal every day:
Right in front of our eyes.
Only when we’re ready to observe that, can we act:
Only then will we be ready.
When we listen:
Paying attention to one another.
Only when we exist for the non-member:
Then we’ll be dressed for action.
Then our lamps will be lit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord teach us to pray”
And Jesus did just that.
He said, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
We know this prayer. We pray it all the time.
But there’s also some really important points here that we need to unpack:
Points that we often gloss over because we know this prayer so well:
We can sometimes say these in rote:
without paying attention to what they really mean.
So let’s take Jesus’ words here line by line.
The prayer begins: “Father, hallowed be your name.”
This tells us, first of all, that our prayers are addressed to God.
And to God alone.
We might pray with others, alongside others, and for others:
But our prayers are our words to God.
And this opening line of the prayer also tells us a bit about who God is,
and who WE are.
God is Father,
And we are his children.
And even more than that:
God is a HOLY father.
When Jesus says “Your Kingdom Come”
He is telling us not just to hope for or pray for, but to help BRING god’s Kingdom here to earth.
But this is also GOD’S kingdom:
Not necessarily OUR ideas of what God’s kingdom should look like.
This line of the prayer forces us to put God’s hopes and dreams above our own:
And to trust that God will bring them about, with our help and faithfulness.
The third part of the prayer says:
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
In this line, Jesus is teaching us to pray for the things we NEED.
Not necessarily the things that we WANT:
But the things that we need for sustenance, for life.
Next we hear maybe the hardest words of this prayer.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Here, Jesus acknowledges the reality of sin:
The reality that we ALL participate in.
Jesus announces our need for forgiveness,
And our need to forgive others.
And this line, is a bit different than the one we generally recite.
Here, it says, “for we ourselves forgive EVERYONE indebted to us.”
It’s pretty clear.
That we need forgiveness from God,
And we also need to forgive EVERYONE else in the same way.
A hard pill to swallow.
Which is part of why we need to pray about it.
To ask God to guide us, help us, and inspire us to forgive:
Precisely because it’s sometimes awfully hard to do:
Maybe even impossible to do without God’s help and guidance.
Finally, Jesus tells us to pray:
“And do no not bring us to the time of trial.”
We are familiar with the other words: “And lead us not into temptation: but deliver us from evil.”
In both cases,
We are asking God to guide us:
And to not make us vulnerable to those powers that rage against God’s kingdom.
Now: that was a nice sermon, huh?
To break down the Lord’s prayer?
But Jesus has more to say about it.
He tells a hypothetical story about a cranky friend,
And the power of PERSISTING.
With this hypothetical story, Jesus is telling us to keep praying:
Over and over and over again.
To keep praising God as our father,
To keep naming our needs.
To not give up until God’s kingdom becomes a reality here on earth.
And its worth noting that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray so that we could be passive.
This story about the persistent neighbor
(or in other translations the neighbor is described as “shameless”)
Is a story about someone who has the audacity to keep asking.
And that shameless audacity will eventually get him the help he needs.
Jesus is telling us to pray SHAMELESSLY.
He’s saying that prayer should be like knocking on your neighbors door in the middle of the night DEMANDING loaves of bread.
When the neighbor doesn’t want to get up because he is already in bed,
Jesus’ advice is to keep asking until he gives in.
It doesn’t matter if he wants to give you the bread or not:
He’ll do it eventually if you bother him enough.
Jesus is telling us that prayer is meant to be bold,
Persistent, and sometimes even uncomfortable.
Prayer is meant to be SHAMELESS.
It’s meant to get results.
After his hypothetical story about the shameless neighbor,
Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you,
Search and you will find,
Knock and the door will be opened for you.”
This idea of bold, shameless, persistent prayer is a good reminder to us that prayer doesn’t have to be silent.
Certainly, at times it can be, and maybe sometimes should be.
Prayer happens in dark, quiet, private places.
But prayer also happens in LOUD places. With wailing, shouting, crying tears of grief, reckoning, and yearning.
Prayer happens when we’re alone with God,
And when we’re gathered with others with God.
But prayer is not meant to stay just between us and God.
Our prayers need to have feet and hands.
Prayer is the practice of seeking God’s presence and guidance as we work toward creating a better world.
Prayer is one way we know God is with us, even when the challenges ahead seem insurmountable.
Jesus wanted our prayer to lead us to difficult places:
To challenge us to do uncomfortable things in his service:
(Like continuing to bang on our neighbors door in the middle of the night.)
Jesus wanted us to be unabashedly shameless in our prayers:
To keep asking for God’s presence in our lives and in the world, despite how daunting our challenges may seem.
What is happening in our world today that requires our shameless persistence in prayer?
What is happening in our lives that needs to change?
What are we seeking, and what are we hoping for?
Jesus promises us that if we knock the door will be opened,
But we might have to knock hard and often:
We might have to ask others to join us:
We might have to be loud in our knocking.
Jesus invites us to pray with the assurance that God is listening,
And not only that, but that God is acting on our behalf:
Ready to respond and to transform our lives and the world around us.
And if we have moments when we feel like our prayers are weak,
Or like we don’t know what to say or do,
We can be like the disciples,
who asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And Jesus, always:
Stands ready not only to answer our prayers,
But also to show us the way in bold, persistent, shamelessness.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Last summer, my husband planted a number of fruit trees in our backyard.
The house that we bought in the middle of North Oshkosh, came with a surprising whole acre of backyard.
When Chris planted these trees,
Neither of us were prepared for how much anxiety the health of those trees would bring him.
He’s pretty constantly nervous about what seems to be excess sap,
About whether there are aphids,
About why this tree hasn’t left dormancy yet,
About whether the trees that lost most of their growth from last year will grow enough to survive this winter.
This anxiety drives both of us nuts.
And in the midst of it all, it’s easy to forget that the point of having these trees,
Was to actually get FRUIT.
Not to fret and fuss about the health of the trees.
But that anxiety,
That amount of time putting out fires,
That majority of my husbands attention goes to the trees that need the most help:
Sometimes makes it hard to celebrate the good that is happening in the midst of them:
The fact that some of these trees are already bearing some fruit:
Even just one year after having been planted!
It’s quite easy to lose the forest for the,
Well, not exactly the trees:
But maybe to lose the forest for the WEEDS.
Church life, especially in this day and age,
Is not too dissimilar to this.
We can get so bogged down in trying to manage problems:
In dealing with the misery people experience,
In negotiating conflict,
In turning to address social ills,
In dealing with buildings:
Running toilets, and higher than normal water bills.
We worry about how many people are coming,
And how old they are,
Worry about whether this program or that will have enough volunteers,
Or even enough participants:
That we forget to take time to simply give thanks for the places where ministry is flourishing:
Where it is yielding what were in this ministry together FOR:
For bearing fruit.
Today, we heard a reading from Colossians.
And Colossians is a book often overshadowed by Ephesians:
Which takes its themes and extends them and makes them more universal.
You add on to that the fact that what we have today is the intro to Paul’s letter.
And it seems like it might not be a reading for an enthralling sermon.
But this introductory material hides within it an opportunity to revel in the sort of unusual:
And NON-controversial aspect of this book of the Bible.
I don’t mean controversial by our modern standards.
What I mean is,
A lot of times: when Paul is writing his letters,
It’s to address a controversy or problem within the community.
But not in this letter to the Colossians.
By all accounts,
Paul seems NOT to have known the church at Colossae.
Rather, he’s HEARD about the faith of the people at Colossae.
What’s more: is that there doesn’t seem to be any real problem in the church that occasioned his letter.
No real conflict.
The issues that Paul addresses throughout the letter,
The issue of the potential for false philosophy of teaching that could lead astray,
Seems more aimed as a general threat posed in the wider church:
Not a particular problem at the church of the Colossae.
Unlike with the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians,
The Colossians don’t seem to have any active harmful teaching or discord in their community.
And this is good!
It's good because it shows us about Paul’s priorities and what he thought was important in ministry.
Paul decided to write a letter:
Something that involved a scribe, and runners to deliver the letter:
As well as taking significant time to have the letter transcribed,
To send some teaching and good news to a church that he had never visited.
He did this because he was impressed by the strength of their faith:
Of the fruit that they were bearing in terms of growth in good works,
And in terms of the growth in understanding.
Paul understood that it was important not only to correct those who needed correction (as in the case of his letters to the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians)
But in the case of the Colossians, Paul shows the importance of remembering (and praising!) the real purpose of ministry:
The growth in fruit bearing Christians:
The growth in people who were themselves growing in the knowledge and Love of the Lord:
Of having more and more people actively moving from death into life.
What fruit are we bearing here at St. John’s?
What do we have to celebrate?
It’s easy to get bogged down with the anxiety around what we feel is missing,
And Paul reminds us today to celebrate what is right here.
The fruits of us:
To worship the living God.
The fruits of this congregation:
Moving out into the world:
To support the community through the food pantry, the thrift store, and our healing ministry.
The fruits of children:
Even little acolytes who are distracted by their games of rock-paper-scissors during the reading of the lessons.
I can imagine Paul writing a letter to the church in New London:
Imagine it with me today:
Maybe even turn into your reading insert,
To imagine these words written to us:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in New London:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints:
Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you.
Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world,
So it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras,
Our beloved fellow servant.
He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
And he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it,
We have not ceased praying for you
and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,
as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,
And may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
While joyfully giving thanks to the Father who as enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Let us remember the goal that Paul presents to us:
The goal is the JOY that comes from fruitful ministry.
Naming, and celebrating those places (and there are many) where our ministries are bearing real fruit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Many of us love a good mystery.
Mystery TV Shows and books never get old. They’re everywhere.
Sherlock Holmes has taken a million different forms and reincarnations throughout the years.
But when it comes to today, Trinity Sunday:
Preachers often note that this is our only church celebration devoted to a doctrine:
To a great mystery.
And many preachers will attempt to explain the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in less than twelve minutes.
These efforts are rarely successful.
Because the Trinity is a serious, deep and rich mystery.
There’s no summary for it:
And certainly not a twelve minute one!
To reduce this mystery to something we can rationally comprehend misses an opportunity for us to open ourselves up to the divine mystery.
We can talk about the history of the doctrine itself.
You can go to Wikipedia later today, and learn some pretty good stuff on the development of the doctrine.
But that’s not the point of today’s celebration.
The real point of today, is this deep, unfathomable mystery that is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:
Leading us and guiding us, not as a historical doctrine:
But as a real and true guide for us on this very modern day.
In fact, the Trinity is as true and powerful today as it was a thousand years ago.
It’s a mystery that encompasses every one of every age.
Last Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost:
We heard about the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
And it continues today.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying,
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all the truth.”
Jesus was speaking to his disciples:
His close friends:
Just before his final meal, arrest, and crucifixion.
In addition to his promises that we would be raised to new life on the third day:
He wanted his followers to know that God would NEVER abandon them.
That the Holy Spirit would be their companion and guide forever.
He was reassuring them that although they were about to face HUGE challenges:
God would be with them.
We humans are pretty silly creatures.
We like to take care of things ourselves.
We are trained to rationally define our reality:
To explain things away: And not seek deeper reality.
We’re told to be leaders, not followers.
Hence, the tendency to explain away the mystery of the trinity on a day like today:
As if it’s something that humanity can explain, and then just put away in the closet.
Yet Jesus says that we don’t need to do any of that!
We are freed from these human limitations:
Freed from acting like we have it all figured out.
Imagine a different way of approaching the challenges of our lives.
Imagine listening to God:
Rather than informing God of how we’d like things to work out.
Imagine that we come to see that there is a deeper meaning to our reality.
Imagine that we can turn to God for guidance when we face difficulty.
We don’t have to imagine any of this!
It IS our reality.
In the Trinity, we see a God who is with us ALWAYS:
Who shows us perfect love,
And who NEVER abandons us.
In Jesus, we see everything there is to see about God’s love:
Even if we can’t comprehend the entire mystery.
We see a person who entered our world in the humblest,
And most ordinary way possible.
We see a person who loved everyone and who challenged everyone to be transformed.
That’s a really important point:
Jesus invites EVERY person to be transformed by the power of God’s love.
In Jesus we see that God was willing to endure the pain and suffering of our humanity:
All so that we might see the wide embrace of God’s love for all people.
And in Jesus, we see the triumph of God’s love over even death itself.
We see, in the resurrection, that God’s love can make us fearless:
That we don’t need to be afraid of anything: not even death.
But the mystery of the Holy Trinity pushes us to look even further.
Last Sunday and today, as we think about the Holy Spirit:
We see yet another dimension of God’s love for us.
In the Holy Spirit, God has promised to be with us always:
To guide us into all truth.
The Holy Spirit’s guidance and love is inseparable from the love of God the father,
And from the love of God the son.
The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and Jesus and the Father are one.
There is a mutual glorification at work,
And each person of the Holy Trinity reveals something about the other persons of the Trinity.
And that is what can draw us into the heart of God’s eternal love.
The Trinity represents how God’s very being is about relationship and love.
The Holy Trinity is itself the manifestation of God’s abiding promise to be with us at every turn, through every struggle.
This is Good News in our time.
So often our temptation is to tear others down:
But we see in the Trinity, a God who unites and glorifies:
Always in loving relationship.
So often our impulse is to separate ourselves from what challenges us:
But we see in the Trinity a God who is eternally steadfast.
So often we limit our reality or our possibilities to what fits into our own understanding:
But in the Holy Trinity, we see a God who promises to lead us into all truth, into deeper mystery- beyond anything we can ask or imagine.
So often, we forget the nearness of God.
But in the Holy Trinity, we see that God is ALWAYS with us.
Even when we leave on new adventures, or some other new venture of the unknown:
We’re NEVER alone.
So today, we won’t explain away the Trinity.
Instead, we’ll sing songs of praise to God the Father,
God the son,
And God the Holy Spirit.
Let’s give thanks that the Triune God loves us more than we can imagine:
Is with us always, at all times, and in all places:
Shedding love that is beyond anything we can ask or imagine.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.
Fifty days after Passover, Jews celebrated the festival of Pentecost.
Originally, it celebrated the wheat harvest,
But it later became the commemoration of the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.
As the fiftieth day of Easter, Christians maintain this festival:
Altering its focus to a celebration of the Spirit of the risen Christ in the Church.
It’s a festival day:
A party day:
And it’s often thought of as the Church’s birthday.
Like the fire and wind on Mount Sinai:
People gathered on that day of Pentecost:
From all over:
And Experienced the same fire and wind as the spirit descended upon them.
From then on:
The miraculous events, seen in the ministry of Jesus:
Occur in the Church.
Today we celebrate the fire of God’s word:
The fire of God’s spirit:
On the foreheads of the faithful.
In John’s Gospel, we hear of the Spirit bringing the TRUTH of God to the community.
It is the conclusion of the Easter Season:
And the celebration of the beginning of the church.
We hear in the Acts of the Apostles, of that first birthday:
Where there is a sort of party:
A party that encompasses all that Jesus said and taught:
Because the invitation list is insane.
Everyone is there:
Not just Jews:
There’s Galileans, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Romans, and Arabs.
People are having such a good time, that you would think they were drunk.
But they’re not:
They just received the most incredible party favors of prophecy, visions, and dreams:
As the spirit of God descends upon them:
Just as Jesus promised.
Just as the scriptures had prophesied.
And this is the focus of Pentecost:
The fulfillment of Jesus’ promise made to his disciples before his crucifixion and resurrection:
The promise that believers will not be alone:
It’s a promise that the Spirit has descended.
That the spirit will be the link between God and the believing community:
That the spirit of God:
It’s a promise that the breath that breathes life into our very bones:
Will create, and recreate:
In the church:
In the world:
And in all of creation.
But the celebration of Pentecost sometimes gets lost:
Is sometimes forgotten:
As Christmas and Easter have become more prominent in our culture.
Yet Pentecost is just as important:
Just as significant.
Christians might feel like they have been left hanging out to dry.
Here in the present:
After Jesus has ascended:
Stuck between the past of Jesus’ historical presence,
And the Future of Jesus’ creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
We would be left with nothing in between.
But the event of Pentecost:
The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling with God’s people:
And the “birthday of the Church”
Reminds us that God continues to walk God’s people:
In nearness and in love:
And that through the power of the Holy Spirit:
Jesus continues to be present to each of us in a very real, and tangible way.
Pentecost is the realization of Jesus’ promise:
A promise that is fulfilled every time the incarnate Word comes to us:
In the scriptures, in our interactions, and in our relationships.
A promise that is fulfilled every time the bread of life comes to us in the bread of the altar.
This celebration of Pentecost reminds us that God is with us.
Notice that Pentecost is about RE-Creation:
Not creation itself.
The Holy Spirit already existed well before Pentecost:
The Holy Spirit:
The Spirit of God is that which the whole world was created.
Yet after Pentecost:
Continues to be transformed:
Re-Newed, and re-born.
So while Today, many celebrate the Birthday of the Church:
I think it’s more a celebration of the Church’s “Baptism day”
As the Church:
In a kind of baptism:
Experiences and remembers the renewal of re-creation.
As the church is baptized into both the death and the resurrection of Christ:
As all of these people gathered:
From all different places:
Feel the Spirit on their foreheads.
And actually: the gift of the spirit:
While certainly present in birth and in creation:
Really reaches its fullness at baptism.
Where one is re-created:
Marked as Christ’s own forever.
When we mark the cross on the foreheads of the newly baptized:
We create a new, intimate Pentecost:
As we say that they “have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism,
And marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Baptism becomes Pentecost:
Pentecost becomes baptism:
And the baptized are changed:
Just as the Church, on that long ago Pentecostal day was changed and transformed:
Drawing the people more deeply into communion with God and each other:
To the ends of the earth:
In every language.
And this is what I love about Pentecost:
That the story isn’t over:
Even after Christ is resurrected:
Even after he ascends into heaven:
The Spirit is still present, still forming us:
And all of creation groans with the labor pains.
Pains that bring forth new life.
We are people of the spirit:
People in which the spirit of God literally dwells:
And it’s our task to hold onto the continual hope of God’s re-creation.
On this day of Pentecost we are pushed to dream big dreams:
Dreams for the world:
Dreams for ourselves:
To even strive for the Dream of God.
And are you tired of me saying it yet?
That there’s NO dream we can’t explore.
No dream too big.
No dream too small.
There’s nothing we can’t try.
There are no limitations:
When the spirit of God is involved:
Everyone is invited:
People of every nation:
Of every language:
The young and the old:
Rich and poor.
On that first baptismal day of the church:
The Spirit gave everyone ability.
The Spirit made everyone visible
When before, the disciples had been in closed rooms,
Behind locked and shut doors:
The invitations were few:
The dreams were locked.
On Pentecost the Spirit blew the doors down,
And sent the disciples into the world:
To re-create the world:
To preach the good news:
To speak to all:
Young and old:
Gentile and Jew:
Egyptians and Asians.
So that everyone might hear the dream of God.
So that everyone:
Guided by the spirit would dream big dreams:
Would feel the labor pains:
As the spirit:
Intimately dwelling within:
Urges God’s beloved to dream and hope:
To dream and hope so big:
That the sighs would be too deep for words.
Today we come to what is basically the end of the biblical story.
In the Gospel reading:
Jesus tells his friends that he is going away soon:
That he will ascend into heaven:
And send the Holy Spirit:
To be the reminder of all that Jesus brings.
And we also hear from the last chapter,
Of the last book of scripture:
In the real finale:
The glorious picture of this heaven that Jesus:
And ultimately many others, will ascend to.
John, the author of the Book of Revelation:
Describes heaven as a city:
A city that is the center of the new heaven and the new earth.
He talks about it’s beauty:
The new Jerusalem:
A golden city, and yet crystal clear like a rare jewel.
The wall surrounding this four-square city has a dozen gates:
With three gates on each side:
Each a giant lustrous pearl
Each one guarded by an angel.
It’s a stable city:
Not resting on a single foundation:
But on TWELVE foundations:
One atop another:
Each foundation made of a different precious stone.
Hearing of this new Jerusalem:
As John describes it:
Brings a sense of glory:
There’s a desire for such fancy and regal living in splendor and majesty.
It seems like a picture from a storybook or fairy tale.
And because of that, Revelation has often been overlooked.
But it’s important to know, that this book:
This biblical finale:
Is much more than a fairy tale image.
It can help us recognize glimpses of heaven that burst into our lives.
For when we live by faith:
Heaven is not a far and alien country:
Instead: we find ourselves dwelling--
At least some of the time--
In the suburbs of this New Jerusalem.
And moments come when we are granted sights of its golden crystalline splendor,
Often when we least expect this to happen.
There are three points about heaven that influence these glimpses:
So First, lets talk about heaven as a community.
The Biblical story itself takes us from a garden with only one couple:
To a vast city with a cosmopolitan population:
The New Jerusalem.
This alone tells us to put away any small, narrow, cramped view of heaven.
The new Jerusalem is a city with people of every kind:
From every nation.
It is the capital of the God who delights in diversity.
If you want to catch a little glimpse of heaven:
Go to a playground in a park in the summer:
Where dozens of kids dash about in perpetual motion:
Each on a different trajectory:
That hubbub of activity, and diversity is a small slice of what heaven will be like.
Second: Heaven is a place of healing.
We hear about this as John describes the landscape of the city.
There’s a river:
A beautiful river:
The river of the water of life:
Bright as crystal.
On the banks of the river appear rows of magnificent trees:
Bearing fruit not once or twice a year:
But a super tree:
That’s exceedingly fruitful.
And John even goes on to say that:
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
The healing of nations!
So heaven has medicine for the wounds that separate and scar nations on earth.
Meaning that the new Jerusalem is a place of reconciliation.
Heaven is where wounds are healed.
Where brokenness gives way to wholeness.
And hatred gives way to love.
All because of the healing leaves of the tree:
A tree that bears the shape of a cross.
And if national wounds can be healed:
So too can smaller but no less painful wounds:
Strife between families and classes and groups and individuals.
All the wounds we carry through this world are healed in heaven.
So if you want to see a bit of heaven on earth:
Go someplace where reconciliation is real:
Where wounds big and small are treated and healed.
Or bring this heaven to earth yourself.
Work for justice and peace.
Or bring it even closer to home,
And forgive someone who may not deserve it:
Maybe even yourself.
You’ll catch a bit of heaven’s glimmer:
You’ll be in the suburbs of the New Jerusalem.
Finally, heaven is a place of vision.
Did you notice the references about light in the passage from revelation?
Light that allows us to see?
We hear that the light of the new Jerusalem IS God’s glory:
And its lamp is the lamb.
By this light the nations will walk.
The gates will never be shut by day,
And there will be no night.
And through that light:
His servants will worship him:
They will see his face:
And his name will be on their foreheads.
That God’s servants will be marked as ones belonging to God:
Just as the church marks the foreheads of the newly baptized with the sign of the cross:
The seal of the spirit:
Marked as Christ’s own forever.
In the new Jerusalem,
The servants are not only marked:
Are not only worshipping God:
But through the light:
They are able to actually SEE God.
This: The sight of God:
Is what above all else, makes heaven: Heaven.
Here in our present life:
We use sacraments and signs,
Images and words that suggest the divine reality to our hearts and minds.
Yet in heaven: we shall see God face to face.
On this earth, we encounter God amid the shadows and uncertainties of life.
In the New Jerusalem, we shall see God in the bright light of eternal day:
And in the delightful rest of eternal Sabbath.
We do not live in that great city right now.
But from time to time we find ourselves in one of its suburbs.
And so, as John might put it:
We catch a glimpse of its golden crystalline walls:
Its gates of stupendous pearl.
And this glimpse may give us a refreshment of hope and courage.
An assurance in time of hardship.
A beauty that delights and longs for more.
The creator of all things:
The lord of all time is versatile in giving us glimpses of that great city:
The great city that is actually a reminder of our true home.
We cannot dictate when these glimpses will happen:
But we can leave ourselves open to recognize and welcome them when they occur.
We can learn and re-learn that heaven is a community:
A place of healing:
A place of vision.
We can long for heaven in its fullness,
And also enjoy the glimpses that appear to us now in moments of vision,
Healing, and community.
Then, when we come to the new Jerusalem, it will not seem like a strange and alien city:
But will feel a lot like home, as we see God, face to face.
At that time, we shall have achieved the purpose of our existence:
And entered into abundant joy from which there is NO exit.
St. Augustine put it well:
“We shall rest and we shall see:
We shall see and we shall love:
We shall love and we shall praise:
Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.”
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