It has been said that ours is a time in America with more polarization than at any time since the Civil War,
which is, actually, not a great benchmark.
Since the 2016 election, the associated press actually created a whole series on detailing this division in society.
Pew research has actually sown that since 1994,
Americans on both sides have moved to both more conservative and more liberal views:
Creating an even bigger divide.
And not only that, the research shows that people are more likely than ever to think that the other side’s policies are a threat to the nations well being.
We’re not only seeing the other “side” as opponents--
We see them as hostile enemies of our very wellbeing.
What seems to be an unprecedented division in OUR national memery,
Is actually far from unprecedented in the history of humanity.
In some ways, thse deivions are baked into the beginnings of Christian history.
So let’s think about it:
Our origins lie in Israel:
A country marked by sepration from the people around it.
And with good reason:
God had selected a group of people,
Consecraged to God in order to be a light to the nations around it.
A group to live differently I order to witness to the God.
And this separation, led to a distinction between Jews and gentiles that I don’t think we can really fully comprehend.
By the time of the New Testament,
Jews could not eat with Gentiles for fear of being made unclean,
And business with them was very difficult.
In the time when Paul was writing his letters,
There were Rabbis going so far as to say that Gentiles would be judged differently (and more harshly) for the same infractions as Jews.
It was certainly divided.
So it is significant:
That Paul makes the reconciliation of the Jews and the Gentiles such a significant part of the outflowing in salvation.
The introduction to Ephesians:
Our reading from Paul today,
Follows immediately upon a discussion of our salvation:
Of Christ bringing us back into a state of peace with God:
And of making our reconciliation with God possible.
In other words,
Paul’s discussion of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile:
Of making of one people out of two:
Flows naturally from the reconciliation of humanity with God.
It’s as though Paul is saying that the state of separation that people find themesleves in (in the world) is a result of,
And flows out of our separation from God.
For those of us for whom the separation from God is overcome,
The worldly erected separations from each other are also overcome.
Paul elaborates on a sentence he makes in 2 Corinthians:
That we as Christians are entrusted with a “ministry of reconciliation”
Or that, we as Christians are called upon to help overcome and model the overcoming of the erected separations in the world.
We are called:
To make of one people, where there are two or more peoples.
We are called upon to work to overcome the divides and breaks,
That divide people into isolated groups.
And the fact of finding ourselves in this moment of unprecedented American division and polarization,
Actually provides us as Christians:
With the unprecedented opportunity to paradoxically set ourselves apart as different and unique because we are trying to live more and more into this overcoming of division.
An overcoming of division that God longs for.
And here you might think, yeah…. But what could Paul actually have to say about our current circumstances?
It might be helpful to consider the context in which Paul was writing.
Just a few short years before this writing to the Ephesians:
Not far away in Syria:
Jews and Gentles had been slaughtering each other.
And at the time of Paul writing this, these memories were still open and living wounds.
We’re not talking about a community where people were yelling at each other,
Or making nasty posts,
Or voting in different ways,
Or calling eachother names.
We’re talking about people literally killing each other in the streets.
So Paul is not talking about hurting each others feelings.
He’s talking about a real, significant, deep, and abding mistrust on both sides:
Borne out of real mutual violence and death.
And Paul wasn’t speaking to people for whom this was easy.
We don’t get off the hook by claiming that Paul somehow had it easier than us. (Because he didn’t!)
So what does this mean?
How do we live into this reconciliation:
This ministry of Reconciliation with God?
First: we look to the example that Paul offers us:
We are to recognize that,
Like the Jews in the early Christian community:
We have to be willing and ready:
To be brought into communion with those we see as “less than”
Or “unworthy” or even “harmful” to our community.
Second we are called upon to live into humility.
We cannot continue to hold that we are absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong.
We must be prepared to accept that we can be taught:
That we still might have something to learn:
And that we aren’t inherently right.
Our humility is not a posture to be walked all over:
If we let others walk all over us,
It wouldn’t be real reconciliation.
But at the same time, we are not to take the stance that we are always right.
And, humility is, after all:
Something that we are commanded by Christ:
The one who himself counted equality with God not as something to be grasped,
But instead emptied himself:
Taking the form of a servant.
And not only that,
But we are to practice profound empathy.
We have to start from a position that those with whom we may disagree are not pure monsters, or devils, as we are pure angels.
We have to assume that wg
We are to practice profound empathy. We have to start from a position that those with whom we may deeply disagree are not pure monsters or devils as we are pure angels. We cannot assume they are working any more our less out of abjection or perversion or rank selfishness. We have to assume that there is some sense of self interest but likely no more or less than those on our side too. We have to accept that there may be, like there are in our position, some valid points or at least concerns, and that people do have a capacity to look out for their own awareness of needs as well as profound capacity for self-delusion—just like us.
The great and interesting thing, and taken from a kind of worldly perspective, is that there is a capacity to be walked all over. If we act in good faith and only ever offer sacrifice of our privilege, humility, and empathy, we may fear that we are going to be taken advantage of and lose out. But that is only if only one "side" does this. The point is that in the church we are all supposed to look to ourselves and not be concerned about the other side. But if everyone does this then we are going to all have a community where by mutual sacrifice, humility, and empathy, we will arrive at a breakdown of the dividing walls. We will achieve more mutual understanding. But this means sacrificing our mistrust as well. Our position requires a posture of trust both that God will ultimately work through us to break down the dividing wall and that people can live into it. In doing this we can begin to model what the new community is, the wedding banquet of the lamb where our proud divisions cease, and we are able to anticipate no longer having to be identified as liberal or conservative or republican or democrat but as Christian, as members of the body of Christ.
I heard a story recently from a priest named Joshua Bowron from Charlotte NC.
He talked about a diocese that was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.
At the time, the diocese had made a beautiful coffee table book that contained short histories of each of the churches, along with many pictures.
At the diocesan convention that year, they were selling that book.
They were selling it everywhere, in multiple places:
Including in the back of the worship space, selling it to people as they entered.
At a worship service, the sermon began with the preacher saying,
“I’m sorry if you heard the commotion a few moments ago,
There was a homeless, long haired man that got into the church.
He was shouting something about his father’s house and he turned over the tables where we are selling our book.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.”
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
The preacher was kidding.
There was no commotion.
No long-haired homeless man.
But he also wasn’t really kidding.
The preacher was bringing up a clear criticism:
Using the story of Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables,
To critique the diocese’s overzealousness in selling the book.
The preacher was afraid that the zeal for the book was getting more energy than the mission of the church.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
Where is Jesus to be found?
Where do we encounter the Holy?
Is it at church?
Is it only at church?
Can Jesus be found at church, or do we get rid of him?
Let’s dive into the gospel story to see if there are any hints as to where Jesus can most reliably be found.
The story opens in his hometown, and his disciples follow him.
It’s an interesting detail.
Jesus is from Nazareth and his disciples are from Galilee.
They walked with him back home.
It is an interesting and significant detail;
Jesus is returning home, but he’s different in several ways now,
not the least of which is that he has followers.
The ones in the synagogue who hear Jesus preaching are astounded.
They are into it. They are in awe.
But then people start to wonder:
Don’t we know this guy?
Didn’t he install your cabinets?
Where did he get all of this?
Another person says,
“oh yeah! I know his brothers and sisters. We saw his mother last week.”
After all this wandering and recognition, the next sentence in the gospel is this:
“And they took offense at him.”
They were astounded,
Yet at the same time, when they saw that he was “one of them”
All of a sudden, he is offensive.
And Jesus gets this:
Which is why he says,
“Prophets are not without dishonor,
Except in their hometown,
And among their own kin,
And in their own house.
And then the narrator of the story tells us that Jesus couldn’t do any deeds of power there.
Jesus is amazed at their unbelief,
And it seems as if there is some sort of connection between trusting Jesus,
And Jesus being able to work.
(This is not by the way, the same as praying harder)
But there IS a connection.
Jesus and his followers then leave Nazareth.
They leave Jesus’ hometown and enter the villages that surround a big city.
And then something interesting happens.
You would think that given the cold reception Jesus received in his hometown that Jesus would then give them the old razzle-dazzle,
he would heal and work miracles: Showing how powerful he is.
Instead, Jesus heals and then pairs off his followers and sends them out with special instructions.
They are to travel light.
They do, they preach repentance, they heal, and they call out evil when encountered.
Jesus doesn’t give them the razzle-dazzle,
he doesn’t do a deed of power to embarrass the old home locals;
he instead authorizes others to go out in his name to heal, testify to God’s love, to call out evil.
This tells us a lot about how God operates:
Never a braggadocious moment, never a moment of old-fashioned power like lightning from above—instead, it’s a new-fashioned power that points away from itself and pours into others.
This is what God is like, and it is something for us to remember:
That the Holy Spirit is God’s sharing of God’s-self with us:
God’s empowering of us for the work of establishing God’s Kingdom,
God’s way of living, right here in our own communities.
Besides all this, we see something in the story that is as troubling as it is interesting.
Jesus is unrecognized in his hometown.
He is recognized of course, but he is not accepted as one who is deeply connected with God.
Indeed, once they do begin to recognize him, they are offended by him.
And it’s in this offense and un-trust, this unbelief, that Jesus cannot work as powerfully as he would have normally.
This should concern all of us who claim to know who and what Jesus is.
The church is the hometown of Jesus, as it were.
Are we offended by him?
Do we allow Jesus to be Jesus or have we domesticated him into a mere kindly carpenter?
The church has, at times, carefully kept Jesus in a safe and contained box,
but Jesus keeps leaving the familiar, keeps empowering others,
and most importantly keeps showing up in strange places that are not his hometown.
That’s where we will most reliably find Jesus,
outside of the hometown.
(Maybe even outside of our comfort zone)
Of course, we meet in this space each week.
We come for solace and strength.
We certainly believe that Jesus is present with us, especially in the Eucharist;
but Jesus is also found outside, in the villages, in the world.
Don’t you know that we disciples are always playing catch-up to the Risen Lord?
Ever since that day when the women found an empty tomb, ever since then,
we have been going to where Jesus has gone ahead of us,
into Galilee, into the villages, into our neighborhoods.
And once we go there, seeking him in the face our neighbors,
he will be revealed, and we just might be empowered to do his work:
healing wounds, preaching God’s love, and calling out evil.
Let us go from here, into the villages following Jesus where he has already gone--
and not simply following him,
but being empowered by him to do his work of love and healing which the world so desperately needs.
For many, the sea conjures up delightful images.
Some enjoy the serenity of a quiet walk on the shore,
Or a cruise to a tropical island.
Modern images of the sea are typically tame and inviting:
Lulling us into associating the sea with a sense of tranquility.
The sea can be described in an endless number of ways.
It is refreshing, beautiful, and humbling.
But not so for our Gospel writer, Mark.
Mark’s sea is not a place for romantic cruises on crystal blue waters.
According to theologian Sharyn Dowd,
In Jesus’ time, the waters were considered to be demon-filled,
And threatened to leave widows behind whenever their loved ones set sail in pursuit of their livelihood.
Mark’s sea is where discipleship is challenged,
Where boundaries are impassable,
Where life hangs in the balance,
And where evil lurks as a formidable foe.
Storms happen—even to the best,
The smartest, and the most prepared among us.
Storms terrify us,
Knocking us around,
Threatening to destroy our stability and security.
We don’t know whether we can withstand them,
And we are uncertain of how long they will last.
At least, that’s how a storm at sea would be for most of us.
And that’s how it was for the disciples.
At the end of a long day of teaching,
Jesus needs a break and initiates a trip across the Sea of Galilee.
Although the water is usually calm,
The wind coming over the surrounding mountains can suddenly raise a tumultuous storm.
Even with Jesus on board,
They still encountered tremendous gusts.
There was no avoiding this storm.
Even as they faithfully followed Jesus’ instructions to cross the water to the other side, they were beaten by waves.
Even though surrounded by other boats—the wind howled--
And the boat seemed to be sinking.
The disciples were terrified that they would perish and Jesus was asleep:
Relaxing on a cushion!
So, they cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And it is then that Jesus calmed the sea with the words, “Peace, be still.”
We may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee,
But we’ve been in that boat.
This story is not just a story about a boat trip and stormy weather.
It’s a story about life--
Times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger have often been compared to stormy seas.
They come upon us weather we like it or not.
And life is like that.
We can avoid some storms by watching the weather forecast,
And by using some common sense.
We can avoid some emotional, spiritual, financial, and social disasters by being wise and following instructions.
But sometimes, bad things just happen--
Even when we’re minding our own business:
Doing what’s right,
Living out our baptismal covenant to the best of our ability with God’s help.
Sometimes, life places us in a boat and the storms begin to rage--
The storms of pain and loss--
The storms of rejection and failure--
The storms of illness and death--
The storms of pandemic and polar vortex.
Whenever or however they arise,
Storms are about changing conditions.
Life becomes overwhelming and out of control.
The weaves crash,
The boat fills up,
And we’re struggling to stay afloat.
For more than a year,
The storm of pandemic has taken us to uncharted waters.
We have a desired destination but are not sure of where we will end up,
Or how we will get there.
The water is deep,
And the new shore is a distant horizon.
We long to trade in our lament for the psalmist’s proclamation:
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
Instead, we find ourselves crying out in fear,
“God, where are you? Do you not care that we are suffering?”
When the wind ceased and the waves became calm,
Jesus questioned the disciple’s fear and lack of faith.
It’s worth nothing that Jesus never said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The storm on the Sea of Galilee that night must have been extremely fearsome if seasoned fisherman doubted their own ability to keep the boat afloat.
We often confuse the two phrases, but saying,
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,”
Is quite different from saying, “Do not be afraid.”
The truth is that things that cause fear are very real.
Isolation, pain, viruses, the loss of jobs, the loss of relationships,
Illness, and death are all very real.
Like the disciples in our text,
We are also challenged to rediscover our faith in God’s word when we find ourselves in the midst of storms.
The questions Jesus asked the disciples are the questions he continues to ask us:
“why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
As we grow in faith, we come to understand that the things that cause us despair do not have the last word.
Yet, faith does not eliminate, change, or take us around the storms of our lives.
Rather, faith takes us THROUGH the storms:
Reminding us that Jesus is there with us.
We are reminded that the power of God is mightier than any wind that beats against us.
That the love of God is deeper than any wave that threatens to drown us.
Jesus invites us to stay with him in the boat saying,
“Let us go across to the other side, I won’t leaved your side. I’ll journey with you.”
And let’s not forget that Jesus was not addressing only one disciple when he invited them on their boat trip.
He addressed all twelve,
And Mark tells us that other boats were with him.
They were in community.
If the past year has taught us anything,
It is the importance of community.
People have worked so hard to stay connected to their communities:
Even while apart.
Just as the disciples set off for the other shore with Jesus in the stern,
We too, journey with our community,
Accompanied by the Master of the ocean and earth and skies,
Who promises, “The wind and the waves shall obey my will. Peace. Be still.”
After the last winds died down from Hurricane Katrina,
There was little optimism among those who remained in New Orleans.
But in the heart of the French Quarter,
In the courtyard behind St. Louis Cathedral,
They found a sign of hope:
A statue of Jesus:
Standing with outstretched arms on a white marble pedestal:
Amid the rubble, unscathed by the destruction all around.
A giant magnolia tree had fallen a few feet away;
So had an ancient oak.
Several burial vaults lay broken and smashed.
But there stood the risen Christ with outstretched arms, offering peace and calm.
When the storms of life toss us to and fro,
May we be reminded that the Master of the winds and waves is present in every storm and his response is always the same:
“Peace! Be still!”
And welcome to our annual meeting Sunday.
In the past, it has been my practice to give a sort of “state of the church” address as the sermon for an annual meeting Sunday.
I usually take the time to reflect on where we’ve bene in the last year.
What we’ve accomplished,
What we still want to work on,
And consider some dreams for the future.
It’s quite similar to a president’s State of the Union.
(Although not nearly as long: and with no references to political parties!)
But I will say this:
Despite all of the political turmoil in our country:
The state of the union is on the one hand, the presidents explaination of the condition of the nation,
On the other hand: it’s meant to be uniting.
That is after all, the root of the word “union”
To join together.
And today, our church is particularily gathered together as a union.
It’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel reading today:
“A house divided cannot stand.”
We must be united.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we always have to agree:
But we do need to take some time:
With ALL the members of our community,
And reflect on the state of our union.
The state of our church.
And this is precisely what annual meetings are for.
It’s an opportunity for us to all come together:
Not only the vestry, or other congregational leaders:
So please: If you are able to stay after our worship today,
I’m also very aware
That this is my first annual meeting with you all.
And I’ve hardly been here for three months:
Making it slightly difficult to do a traditional, “state of the church address.”
For this reason, Dan, our extremely faithful senior warden will lead us in our meeting today,
And I can promise you that next year I will be much more equipped!
But its also important to note that I do have SOME things to say about the State of the church.
And let me tell you:
The state of the church is GOOD.
The state of St. John’s church is GOOD.
After MONTHS: Actually over a YEAR:
Of not being able to worship in person:
Here we are.
And not only that:
But a GOOD number of us are here.
Before I say any more:
I want to be clear that what we do is not about the numbers.
Church is never about how many people attend.
Having a good amount of people attending can be a sign of health and vitatlity:
And that is GOOD.
The statistitians report that churches can expect to be at only 80% of their pre-covid attendance by this fall.
It’s June: and we’re already over our 80%.
As a matter of fact:
We had the same number in attendance on Easter Sunday this year, than on Easter 2019.
(Where most churches saw a significant decrease in attendance).
This is GOOD.
And not ONLY that:
But the amount of children here at St. John’s is ASTOUNDING.
I’m certain we host more children here than most congregations in our diocese.
This is GOOD
And not only THAT:
But the welcome and hospitality to people of all ages in this congregation is incredible. We are not just a church for the young. And we are not just a church for the old.
We are a church for EVERYONE. Where everyone is welcomed.
And I say this not just as your priest:
But also as a parent.
I have attended many congregations where my children were not welcome.
(or at least: were not welcome to be children: and instead expected to be tiny adults).
The welcome, care, and PATIENCE that you’ve shown my children means the world to me.
And I’m certain it does for every other parent and grandparent too.
And this is GOOD.
Your commitment to the larger New London Community is one of ministry and service:
One that most churches wouldn’t even be able to imagine.
Through the thrift store, and the food pantry, you feed, clothe, and care for hundreds.
This is GOOD.
And not only that:
But our healing prayer center just opened!
Your firm and unshakable belief that God can and does heal is powerful:
Making a difference in the lives of those we love, and the lives of those that we don’t even know.
Isn’t this GOOD?
And I’ll be honest:
Most of the things that I’ve worked on with congregations in the past:
You already have figured out.
All of that goodness that I talked about above is part of what drew me to you.
But not because it means that we can just sit back, relax, and revel in all our goodness.
Because here’s the thing:
There is absolutely NO limit on God’s Goodness.
Today’s collect opens by saying:
“O God, from whom all good proceeds.”
ALL GOOD proceeds from God.
And there’s no limit.
No point at which there couldn’t be more.
So what Goodness do you still long for?
What Goodness can we give out to the world?
The church’s annual meeting is a time where we take care of some of the “business” that needs to get done.
But it’s also an excellent time to dream and reflect:
To dream and reflect on the possibilities of God’s INFINATE goodness:
And how we can be a part of it.
Nothing is off the table.
We wont be able to do everything:
But we can consider anything.
We wont be successful at everything we try:
But we can try anything.
I wont know how to do everything!
But I’ll learn more about anything.
Will you join me?
Can we come together as the family that we are:
The undivided house that we are:
The UNION that we are:
To explore new options,
Ideas, and adventures for us and for all the people of God?
But one more thing:
We don’t have to figure it all out today.
We CAN’T figure it all out today.
But today marks a beginning for us:
To begin consciously thinking, exploring, and praying for what’s next for us.
What new good things we can be and do.
And there is no point when its all figured out:
When it’s all finished:
Because there is no end or limit to God’s goodness.
On a not so special night:
A regular old night like any other,
Nicodemus sought Jesus out for a conversation.
Nicodemus was full of curiosity.
He had questions.
And an ordinary night,
was transformed into an extraordinary one,
Because of Jesus.
Jesus transformed a regular night, with some regular questions
Into a remarkable, life-changing event.
And by the end of the Gospel of John,
Nicodemus is a new person.
If someone asked him what made him who he was at that time,
He may have found himself returning to that regular old night,
When the extraordinary God changed his life.
And that’s often how it is.
Extraordinary experiences come out of the ordinary ones.
The extraordinary God:
Comes to us as an ordinary human:
Yet extraordinarily God.
Dying a human death:
Yet rising to new life in the most extraordinary event of all time.
It’s the message of Christmas.
It’s the message of Easter,
And it’s the message of all life in between.
It’s the message of the Trinity: which we celebrate today.
And it’s worth asking yourself:
How it’s worked out in your own life?
What moments have made you into who you are today?
Some moments are probably spectacular.
Others earth-shattering, even heartbreaking, and more.
But when we really take the time to reflect on what made us who we are right now:
Today, In this moment:
We will likely come up with the names of people who have filled our lives.
Little things they did, or said to us:
Things that they might not even remember today:
But have stayed with us and changed us.
Little, ordinary things:
That became extraordinary, lifechanging transformations:
Shaping us into the people we are today.
For me, one of those little moments was on Trinity Sunday, 1999.
When I stood at Trinity Episcopal Church in Pierre, SD
And preached my first sermon.
I was eleven.
All because some ordinary adults in my congregation believed that an ordinary sixth grader could preach about the extraordinary love of God.
And that began to shape me into who I am today.
An ordinary moment, of lifechanging transformation.
This truth about the ordinary becoming extraordinary is a hint to us that God:
Our awesome, all knowing God:
Is right there with us:
Taking what might be the most ordinary of moments,
And breathing a little extra into it:
So that over time, it becomes something extraordinary.
And as Christians:
We are called to be witnesses to this reality:
Of the ordinary and mundane,
Transformed into something incredible, awesome, and extraordinary:
And seeing the world in a new way:
As we become aware of the movement of God transforming us.
In today’s Gospel story,
We see Jesus launch the transformation of Nicodemus
From a questioning leader:
To a witness to the movement of God.
And the movement of God is trinitarian:
IT’s three in one.
Physical, Spiritual, and Divine.
It takes our full selves to be part of this movement.
We can’t compartmentalize the movement of God to one hour or one day.
We can’t compartmentalize it into one part, one choice, one belief.
The movement of God is all of it.
In all of it’s fullness.
All of the ordinary:
Transformed into the extraordinary.
Just like all of those little ordinary moments,
Along side the big earth shattering ones,
That make us into who we are.
This is Trinity.
And this is difficult for us to grasp.
Because our entire world is about compartmentalization.
We count the minutes and hours of our days.
Dividing up time for work,
Time for family,
Time for celebrations,
And time for chores.
But the movement of God blurs and smudges the lines.
All the ways in which we divide and order it.
The Movement of God never stops.
The movement actually IS God’s full self:
Father, Son and Spirit:
Set loose in all of creation:
To breathe that extra into the ordinary.
During this late-night conversation in today’s Gospel story
Jesus invites Nicodemus to wake up,
Be “Born again”
And move beyond the lines and boundaries that the world tells him he should follow.
Jesus invites him to join the movement of God:
To be born again in flesh, water, and spirit:
In all the fullness.
Jesus is not interested in simply answering Nicodemus’ questions:
Or giving him a brief summary.
Jesus is inviting him to participate in an entirely new way of seeing and living:
A way of seeing and living that only happens with the participation of his full self:
Joining in the Movement of God:
In the life of the Trinity:
The very life of God.
And it’s hard to catch on.
It’s hard to be moved from all that we know:
This one body, this one life, our understanding of science and creation.
It takes Nicodemus some time to catch on.
He asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?”
And Jesus doesn’t back down.
He replies “You must be born from above.”
With these words,
Jesus calls us to move beyond our ordinary way of thinking:
Into an extraordinary:
Trinitarian way of BEING.
Jesus invites us to the place where our bodies, minds, souls and spirits meet.
Our selves, our souls, and bodies.
All of us. Each part of us: In all its fullness.
Jesus calls Nicodemus, and all of us:
To live into the realization of ALL that we are.
We are not just machines, a body moving by habit.
We are not just flesh.
God made us to be part of the Movement:
For our ordinary to be transformed into extraordinary,
Over and over again,
Becoming our full selves.
On this Trinity Sunday,
We are commissioning our healing prayer team members:
Who have committed to praying for other ordinary people:
Believing that the extraordinary power of God can transform bodies, minds and souls.
Believing that the essence of God:
Our source of life:
The father, son and holy spirit:
In the big and the small.
The ordinary and the extraordinary.
And all of it merges together,
Blurs the lines,
To make us who we are:
Transformed by God’s fullness.
On this Trinity Sunday,
May you be moved:
With your full self:
Your emotions, your mind, soul and strength:
Your selves, your, souls, and bodies:
To join the Movement of God.
And breathe in that extra that comes from the fullness of God with us:
That extra that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2: 1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
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.
Paul’s letter to the Romans describes this beautifully:
That the Spirit of God re-creates in us:
And in the entire cosmos:
Yet it’s also desperately intimate:
Coming to each one of us:
With “sighs too deep for words.”
And as people of the Spirit:
As the people in which the Spirit literally dwells:
It’s our task to hold onto the continual hope of that re-creation.
Paul puts it well when he says:
“For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Paul’s words about the fruits of the spirit:
Of the Spirit’s sustaining hope:
Gives us permission to hope for something bigger:
Hope for something better:
Hope for a re-created world:
And re-created selves.
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 as we’ve been talking about in the last few weeks:
There are no limitations:
Everyone is invited:
People of every nation:
Of every language:
The young and the old:
For as the Prophet Joel said:
“your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.”
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.
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.
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17: 6-19
“That they may be one.”
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ prayer:
The prayer that he prayed the night before he died.
Kind of an interesting reading to hear on this seventh (and final!) Sunday of Easter.
But then again: There’s a reason for that:
Because it brings us full circle.
On the night before he died,
Jesus prayed a prayer for his disciples:
A prayer for everyone who would believe in him:
A prayer for us:
A prayer for the world.
Jesus says, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
So that they may be one, as we are one.”
To be one.
To be one with all people.
To put aside our differences:
To be in loving community:
To end fighting:
To end war.
This is a BIG prayer.
An astonishing prayer.
A prayer that seems almost impossible.
We might be tempted to say, “Who are you kidding, Jesus?”
“It didn’t happen in your time:
What makes you think it could ever happen in ours?”
But Jesus told his followers that they should be one in this world:
in their culture and their time.
It goes along with Jesus always reminding the disciples, and all of us:
That the Kingdom of Heaven is here –
not something that will come in the next world.
But to be one right now. Right here.
Its an echo of Jesus’ teachings on eternity:
The past, the now, the future:
All of it: In its fullness.
That they all may be one.
It’s not just about “later.
And what’s cool about Jesus:
Is that he ALWAYS talks about these things in positive statements:
As his dream for the world:
Not as a “yeah right”
Not as something rote, and un thoughtful.
It’s as if he’s saying to God:
“This is my wish: This is my dream:
That those who believe would be one: just as you and I are one.”
He says it as if he expects it to happen.
He says it as if he thinks we understand what he’s talking about.
But Jesus knows what he’s talking about.
Whether WE know what Jesus is talking about is an entirely different thing.
And maybe that’s just the thing.
Maybe we just don’t know what “unity” means
When Churches throughout the centuries have battled and split off from one another repeatedly.
That’s not being one.
When the human obsession with being right consistently puts up roadblocks against Jesus’ prayer.
That’s not being one.
But how can we even understand the image that Jesus gives us:
About our own unity as the mirror of Jesus and the father being one?
That’s pretty hard to understand.
That’s pretty hard to fully know:
It’s one of those things:
Like the peace of God which passes ALL understanding.
Beyond our comprehension.
Beyond our understanding.
But that’s no free ticket to give up.
To let the seeming impossibility of unity and one-ness make us quit.
So we have to look for the oneness.
It is our call and our duty:
To seek it in God and in each other.
And Oneness with God means being at one with all of God’s gifts:
All Cultures, peoples, nations:
And every single bit of our own human existence.
The joys and the sorrows.
The fears and the strengths.
To tear apart one bit of our gift is to put a tear in the beauty of oneness with God:
And oneness with each other.
And here’s the important part:
Being the same, is not the basis of unity.
Just like Jesus and the Father are not “the same.”
Love is the basis of unity: and nothing else.
Just like we’ve been hearing the last few weeks:
About abiding, loving, about being only one branch on the ever-living vine.
Being the same: is not unity.
When St. Paul said that there was no more male or female,
Jew or Greek.
He didn’t mean that men and women would be morphed into some other form of human being:
Or that Jews and Greeks would become one new nationality.
He meant that each of us:
In our uniqueness would look with love on all the other creatures of God.
He meant that we would see beauty in the gifts that others have,
Instead of being jealous of another’s gifts:
Or thinking that our gifts are better than someone elses.
He meant that:
All of the gifts matter:
And all of them are necessary for us to all be one.
He meant that we should join together to build the Kingdom of God:
The Kingdom of God that IS among us.
This kind of love is hard.
Our human nature makes it hard.
Our culture makes it hard.
If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we’ll hear that the outpouring love that IS God:
Is there for all of us.
In all of its different ways:
And we’ll strive to let it guide our words and actions.
And not all of us will be called to do the same things:
We need it all:
We need everyone:
We need priests:
And we need lay readers.
We need activists:
And we need people to pray silently at home.
We need teachers,
And we need listeners.
We need the young,
And we need the old.
But here’s the other hard part:
We can do this:
We can become one:
Only if we are willing to be transformed.
Only if we are willing to be changed:
Only if we are willing to listen to God:
To let God’s love pour over us,
And relinquish some of our own control:
Some of our own sense of what’s “Right.”
And This is our heritage.
This is who we are.
Those who are constantly,
At any time, at any age:
Willing to be transformed.
Willing to receive new gifts,
Willing to try something new.
For the sake of being one in THIS Kingdom:
Love and Obey
Mother’ s Day
Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God may your light guide our footsteps along the pathway of life. May your hand rest upon us and your love always enfold us, and so lead us onwards to know and love you and others better. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Welcome on this Mother’s Day. I can’t imagine a better lesson for Mother’s Day than one that begins like this: Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love . . . “If anyone loves me, they will obey . . .” That’s what Jesus is saying to us in our Gospel for today
Obedience is important to our spiritual lives. However, obedience is also an important part of helping a family run smoothly.
A professor was giving a lecture on company slogans and was asking his students if they were familiar with them.
“Joe,” he asked, “which company has the slogan, FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES?”
Joe answered with the correct airline.
“Brenda, can you tell me which company has the slogan, DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT?”
Brenda answered quickly with the correct credit card company.
“Now John, tell me which company bears the slogan, JUST DO IT?”
“That’s easy,” John answered, “It’s my Mom.”
The shoe company surely stole their motto from someone’s Mom: “JUST DO IT?” Why? “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”
There is an undeniable link between love and obedience. We can threaten a child to be obedient. We can punish an act of willful defiance. But the only way our children will take up the values we want for them will be if they know they are connected to us by a bond of love that cannot be broken. So it is in our relationship with God.
It is important that we obey God’s commands. Let’s begin there: Obey God’s commands. That sounds obvious, but this is a lost teaching in our day. We have become a permissive society, a “do your own thing” society. The lines between right and wrong have become blurred. We make our own morality as we go along. People who say they believe in God’s commandments seem to have increasing difficulty applying those standards to their daily lives. Some people have a particularly hard time with obedience.
Tommy Nelson, in his book, The 12 Essentials of Godly Success, tells of being a chaplain of a high school football team in the 1970s. This was in Texas where football is a religion. To be a great football player in Texas means you are extra special.
Nelson says that on the team on which he served as chaplain was a young man who was the finest high school football player he has ever seen. This young man was one of only three athletes in the history of Texas to be a three time high school all-American. When he was ready to graduate, this young man had his choice of colleges. He picked a school whose previous running back was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. The question was not whether this young man would be good, but whether he himself was going to win the Heisman.
After the young man made his decision, Nelson asked the young man’s high school coach, “What do you think? Will he win the Heisman someday?”
The coach replied, “He’ll never carry the ball in college.”
Nelson was shocked. “What do you mean?” he demanded.
The coach told him this young man had a serious character flaw that would eventually disqualify him. He knew his college coaches would see it right away, and that would be the end of his career.
Well, the coach was right. The young man ended up attending four different colleges – he quit two and was kicked out of two. He finished without a degree. As the coach predicted, he never made it as a college player.
What was the character flaw that the coach saw? “He cannot submit to authority,” the coach said. “He cannot submit to his parents. He cannot submit to an employer. He cannot submit to a teacher.” The coach told Nelson, “We’ve carried him along for the sake of the ball club. But I assure you, he will not submit to his college coaches. His football career is done.”
Many of us are offended by the notion of obedience. We want to be the captain of our own ship, but obedience is an important trait of a successful life, particularly obedience to God. God is a God of abundant grace, but that does not mean God does not have expectations for us. The Scriptures are full not only of God’s promises, but also of God’s instructions for how we are to live our lives. Obedience to those instructions is vitally important.
Christ left behind his followers. He had certain expectations he wants us to meet. “If anyone loves me,” says our Lord, “they will obey my teaching . . .” In the same way that a family cannot function without some measure of discipline, we cannot serve Christ unless we exercise discipline over our spiritual lives. We are to obey Christ’s commands. We are to love our neighbor. We are to keep the Commandments. We are to help the poor. We are to welcome the stranger. We are to forgive those who wrong us, pray for those who insult us. Just because we are saved by grace does not mean there are not instructions for how we are to live. We are to obey God.
Our obedience grows out of our love for God. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching . . .” This is not blind obedience to a heartless law. Neither is it a set of meaningless rituals that we are required to adhere to. Christ did not tell us to park our brains at the door. We are not robots. Neither are we clueless children.
Christ’s teachings were given to us out of God’s love for us. It’s appropriate on this special day that we compare God’s love to that of a mother who loves her child. Young people, you know that when your mother gives you a rule to follow, even one as bland as “Don’t sit too close to the TV . . .” or “Be sure to put a jacket on . . .” or “Be home by midnight . . .” you know down in your heart, she’s doing it out of love. You are at the very center of her world and she wants you to be safe. She wants you to be happy. She knows this is a dangerous world. There are some things that might bring us a few moments happiness that in the long run of life can spell ruin for us. She’s not really being mean. Overly protective, perhaps, but not mean. And, yes, Moms are human. They make mistakes, but 99% of the time, they make those mistakes in love. They really want your well-being.
Author, speaker and sports enthusiast Pat Williams, in his book A Lifetime of Success, gives one of the best examples I know of a mother’s love.
He tells of attending a very special Atlanta Braves’ baseball home opener on April 8, 1974. It was a night game against the Dodgers and it was a complete sellout. Williams looked around to see that, seated immediately behind him was singer Pearl Bailey. Up at the plate: the immortal Henry Aaron. On the line: Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. Aaron had tied the record and tonight he was aiming to break it.
Understand this was over 40 years ago. An African American player was about to topple the great Babe Ruth and a lot of people in the country didn’t like it. Aaron got a lot of mail that year more than 930,000 letters in all, far more than any other person in the country. Most were fan letters but about 100,000 of them were hate letters, some containing death threats.
Williams says he was on the edge of his seat when Dodgers pitcher Al Downing hurled the ball toward the plate. Aaron swung and connected. The crack of his bat echoed through the stands. The ball was gone. Home run. Babe Ruth’s record was shattered. The ballpark went nuts.
“As Aaron rounded second base,” says Williams, “a couple of teenagers both white jumped over the retaining wall and ran onto the field, chasing Aaron. For a moment, no one knew what they had in mind, but then it became clear: they were celebrating and cheering Aaron on. As Aaron crossed the plate, the dugout emptied as the Braves streamed onto the field to surround him, cheering and whooping it up. But amid all those ballplayers around Aaron was a short, sixty-eight year old black woman. She latched onto Aaron and wouldn’t let go of him.
“Henry Aaron turned and said to her, ‘Mom! What are you doing here?’
“‘Baby,’ said the mother of the new home run king, ‘if they’re gonna get you,’ (thinking of the death threats Aaron had received) ‘they’ve gotta get me first!’”
That is love only a mother could have for her child. “If they’re gonna get you, they’ve gotta get me first!” It is, however, only a pale reflection of the love God has for each of us. Do you really think that God would give us any command that was not for our best good? “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him . . .”
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, give us the grace to bring up our children in the discipline and nurture of the Lord. Help us all to be an example of virtue. Give our children grace and gifts of the Spirit so they will profit from the guidance we give them. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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