Thursday, April 24, 2008

Easter 6, April 27, 2008

Easter 6

Text: John 14:15-21

Title: Are We Done?

Many of you know that before I came to Friedens, I worked at a Methodist Retreat Center in the NC mountains. You might not know that for two of the four years I was there I also pastored a tiny house church in Highlands, NC called the Church of the Holy Family.

Holy Family worshipped in a house, in a two car garage which had been nicely fixed up as a Chapel. There was a pulpit and an Altar and a piano and three rows of folding chairs. It was a tight space. Nong sat with his family in the back row. Nong was 4 years old; he had been adopted from Thailand. During the service, Nong usually sat in the floor and played with his dinosaurs.

And every Sunday, after Communion, when everyone stood up for the Post-Communion Blessing, in that brief of moment of silence before the Pastor speaks, Nong would loudly ask his mother, “Are we done?”

It’s a good question for us here, today. Are we done? And the answer, in good, Lutheran, waffling, dialectical, tradition is; well, yes . . . and no?

This “are we done?” question was on the minds of Jesus’ disciples in our Gospel lesson. This text is a part of Jesus’ long sermon/conversation in the Upper Room after the Last Supper. It starts right after Judas leaves to go to the temple to betray Jesus and continues for four chapters.

And, the bottom line is that the disciples are trying to figure out, “Are we done?” “Is it all over?” “What happens next?” “What about us?”

And Jesus is trying to give them a “Yes . . . and No” answer, which they really aren’t buying.

The “Yes” part of the answer is that he is indeed leaving, it is indeed over. He tries to get them to understand what the next three days will be about for Him: death, hell, resurrection, time spent with the disciples, then Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit;

but, frankly, it’s all just too weird and confusing and frightening, and they don’t really get it.

“Where are you going?” “No, we can’t come if we don’t know the way?” “”Why don’t you speak plainly?” they ask him. “Why does he mean by that?” they ask each other. No, they really don’t get it. Why is he leaving, now, so soon? Is it really over? And Jesus’ answer is Yes . . . and No.

Yes, in that the way it’s been for the last few years is over. This close, intimate, personal relationship between me and all of you is over, Jesus says, and it can never be repeated. My time on earth is done.

But, NO, in that the community of love we started together is not over. And will never be over. It has begun in us and will continue in you all forever. Because, when I leave, I will send into your midst the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to hold you together and to lead you forward.

So, NO, it isn’t over. We aren’t done. In reality, we’ve only just now gotten started.

And the mark of this ongoing Jesus Movement/Christ Community is LOVE. Which is simple to say and hard to do.

I know I’ve said this here before, but my favorite line from GK Chesterfield bears repeating:

In one place in the Bible, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors. In another place he tells us to love our enemies. This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.

Love is hard, particularly the sort of love Jesus is talking about here, AGAPE, self-giving, sacrificial love which seeks nothing for itself but instead seeks only to aid and help the other. Again, love is hard, especially when we are invited by Jesus to love people we don’t really like.

And of course, this is not the only place Jesus calls upon us to love each other in this way.

The text says, “If you love me, you WILL keep my commandments.”

And what are Jesus’ commandments? Well didn’t he say they were all about loving God and each other?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In another place he says:

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Over in the 21st chapter of John, after his death and resurrection, Jesus has a dialog with Peter on the beach:

Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs.
Peter, do you love me, Tend my sheep.
Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.

So it is clear that Jesus wants us to love one another. The problem is, loving each other is very hard business. Loving people you like is difficult enough; how can Jesus’ order us, command us to love even those we don’t like?

What are we to do? How do we begin to love others in the way Our Lord loved us?
There are two hints to the how of this in our Gospel lesson.

The first is buried within verse 15, the first line of our text:

If you love me, you WILL keep my commandments.

It is a part of our basic human nature that we hear these words as LAW, as a RULE, as a COMMAND to be OBEYED, as a WORK to be ACHIEVED.

Our ears hear Jesus saying something he didn’t say. We hear:

If you want to prove to the world and to God that you love me, then you will have to show it by loving one another.

That’s what we hear; but that’s not what Jesus said.

Jesus gave us a word of GOSPEL, not LAW;
a word of PROMISE, not JUDGMENT.


If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

If you are an apple tree, you will bear apples.

If you are a child of God, you will act like one.

If you are connected to the Christ, you will bear the Christian fruit of love.

Jesus’ point is that the capacity to love people is not something we develop or achieve; it is rather the gift of God received in our relationship of love with the Christ.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments,” is a gospel promise that being in relationship with the living Lord is a life-changing, transforming experience.

As Christ begins to live more and more within us, as we open our lives more and more to Christ’s leading, we find ourselves more and more able to treat others in a loving and respectful manner.

The loving relationship we have with Christ begins to spill over into loving relationships with those around us.

And, Jesus implies, though I am leaving, the love community we have created will continue to live and grow into the future.

The Second Key is found in verse 16:

And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth . . .”

This advocate, this counselor, this Spirit of Truth; is in us, with us at all times. The Holy Spirit is available to nurture us; to lead and guide us in loving others as Christ has loved us.

Jesus says, “Yes, we’re done with me being with you. But I will not leave you orphaned, alone, unloved and uncared for. No, you’re not done with the life of loving one another with the love of God. I will send the Spirit to carry you along the rest of the way.”

Jesus comes to us today to assure us that in the midst of life’s surprising twists and turns and comings and goings; he will never be done with loving us.

Our calling today is to respond to that promise and that love by loving one another.

Are we done? Yes, if you mean are we done in our relationship of Pastor and congregation? That ends Wednesday night.

Are we done? No, if you mean are we done loving one another in the spirit and presence of the risen Christ. We will never be done with that, for Christ will never be done with us, not in a million years.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Easter Four, April 13, 2006

A note to my loyal readership: Since I announced my resignation from Friedens to take a call as an Assisstant to the Bishop in The ELCA's Southeastern Synod, quite a few folks have indicated they hoped I would continue to post the sermon blog. I will until feedback let's me know that a steady diet of installation, dedication, ground-breaking and "ya'll be nice to each other please" sermons has proven be to not only not healthy, but also not helpful. delmo

The Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 13, 2008

Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, I Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

“The Shepherd of the Sheep”

Will Rogers said that the only thing he knew about politics was what he read in the papers. I find myself with an even greater handicap, the only thing I know about Sheep and Shepherds I read in a Bible Commentary.

I know more about mules than I want to know. We had two when I was growing up and we used them in raising tobacco.

I know a lot about cows. We had one that we milked by hand, and my uncle had a dairy next door.

I even know a considerable amount about hogs having helped my wife’s father with his for several years.

But again, I don’t know anything about Sheep and Shepherds, except what I read in the Commentaries.

Now here’s an interesting thing that occurred to me this week.

Bible commentaries are written by Biblical scholars, who learned what they know from an older generation of Biblical Scholars, who learned from an even older generation of Biblical Scholars, so . . .

I began to wonder how far back you have to go until you find a Biblical Scholar who actually, really, knew anything about Sheep and Shepherds.

These reflections lead me to two very comforting conclusions:

1) Most preachers don’t know anything about Sheep or Shepherds either.

2) The point of the text isn’t about Sheep and Shepherds anyway.

Jesus is here establishing that he is MORE THAN just another religious leader, or rabbi, or priest or prophet; he is the MESSIAH of God.

A few quick things from the Bible Commentaries might be helpful to us here.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel are often referred to as the FLOCK OF GOD.

The kings and priests and prophets of Israel were given the responsibility for taking care of GOD’S Flock.

And, as the Historical parts of the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, they often failed at this task; there were many bad kings, lousy priests and false prophets.

When Jesus compares himself to a shepherd, it’s not really a farm image; it’s more a religio/political one.

The important TRUTH he is speaking is that whereas the previous leaders had been poor or incomplete or unfaithful leaders, or, to use the language of the text: “strangers” and “thieves and bandits,”

Jesus lays claim to being “the shepherd of the sheep,” and “the gatekeeper,” and “the gate.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, “In the past, God gave the responsibility for the people of God over to the Kings of the country and the Priests of the Temple and the Prophets of Israel, but now God has given over that responsibility to me, Jesus of Nazareth.”

There are two important implications for us as we think about this text:

One is that membership in the “God Community” is a matter of hearing and responding to the voice and call of God in the world.

The key verses here have to do with voices and listening.

In verses 3-5, Jesus says,

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

Last Monday, Ruby Loy had cataract surgery. Late in the day I dropped by the house to visit with Ruby and Frances and to see how Ruby was doing.

We talked, we joked, we prayed, then I left and Frances walked me out to the car. As we left the kitchen door we were talking about the cows and how Edward had come down and given them some hay and I was looking down toward the pasture and Frances said, “I spoil them, you know. Watch this.”

And she turned and looked down across the pasture and called out, “Hey, Whiteface!” And while all the rest continued eating, one cow, its face completely white, raised its head and looked at us. “The sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

We are Christians, the people of God, because God’s voice has gotten through the static of our hectic, noisy, modern lives.

We are Christians because the “still, small voice,” of God has slipped in underneath the busyness of our existence and tugged at the apron strings of our hearts, getting our attention and moving our souls.

Christianity is not so much a matter of believing certain things as it is of hearing that voice and trusting it with your life.

Jesus calls to us in the Scriptures, “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” he says.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” he promises.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” he pleads with us.

In the days since my resignation, I have had some people speak some very kind words to me about my preaching, and I have no false modesty, I appreciate the praise.

But I hope that you will clearly recognize that the voice your spirits heard was not my voice, it was the voice of the shepherd speaking through me.

It’s the same voice that speaks through the Scriptures and through the liturgy and through the hymnody and through the Choir Anthems.

It is the voice of deep crying out to deep, of Christ’s spirit seeking out our spirits and calling us to come into the presence of the lover of our souls.

I said there were two important implications. One is that Jesus’ voice calls to us. The second is that life in Christ is a good, rich and abundant life.

I do not mean by this what is sometimes called the “prosperity Gospel,” what we in seminary called “blab it, grab it” theology.

Prosperity Gospel advocates say that God wants you to be rich, wants you to be swimming in material blessings.

They interpret “abundant life” in terms of houses and cars and jobs and bank accounts.

They see these THINGS as being somehow, in a perverse twist on the wording of the Book of Common Prayer’s description of a sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

This is most assuredly NOT what Jesus meant by an “abundant life.”

Jesus meant a life that is full of the will and way of God,

Jesus meant a life that is directed toward loving deeds and peaceful goodness to our neighbors,

Jesus meant a life in which our cup is running over with an awareness of the goodness of God so much so that it naturally spills out and spills over and intersects with every aspect of our lives,

Jesus meant a life full of random acts of kindness toward those around us.

Jesus, quite simply, meant a life full of God, which means a life full of LOVE!

Today, the voice of the true shepherd calls to us across the years.

Today, the gatekeeper comes and opens the way to the green pastures of God’s love.

Today, the gate itself swings wide and beckons us to enter into the community of God’s faithful.

Today, Jesus speaks to us in the language of the heart,
and spreading wide his arms and his heart he says,

I love you, I love you this much. Follow me!

Amen and Amen.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Easter 3, april 6, 2008

Third Sunday after Easter
April 6, 2008

Text: Luke 24:13-35

When I was a kid, we always got to the movies late because, well, Daddy was Daddy and he was always late, and it was difficult to get 5 children anywhere together at the same time. We always came in after the movie was about a third over.

So we saw the end of the movie, then we waited in the theater while the ushers swept the floor and carried out the trash, and a new crowd came in, then we sat through the previews and the opening of the movie, then the whisper came down the row, "Let's go. This is where we came in." And Papa Chilton and Mama Chilton and all the embarrassed little Chiltons would file out.

Besides the embarrassment, the thing that stuck with me about that recurring experience was how odd it was to watch the beginning of the movie when you had already seen the end. Knowing how the story comes out changes how you see the beginning.

As we look at this story of the Road to Emmaus, we already know that the stranger is the Christ, we already know that Christ is Risen, we already know how the story comes out, we have seen the end.

So, we may miss the utter despair behind the words, BUT WE HAD HOPED.

(verses 20-21) "and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. BUT WE HAD HOPED, that he was the one to redeem Israel."

BUT WE HAD HOPED – are there any sadder words we can say?

BUT WE HAD HOPED – have you ever lost hope, lost confidence in the future, lost a vision of what can be, could be, should be?

BUT WE HAD HOPED – have you ever lost your grip on the promises of God?

In our story these men had lost hope – they were walking home to their village of Emmaus, returning to their former lives after years of following Jesus.

They had given up. They had lost the confidence in the future, they had lost the way forward, so they decided to go back, back to the comfort of their past.

They had hoped in Jesus, but now that they had lost hope, they were feeling, well, LOST.

Until they were found by Jesus on the road.

When they were at their lowest, Jesus found them and picked them up.

When they were the farthest from God, God in Christ came to them.

They were on the road away from Jesus- when Jesus found them on the road.

(verse 27) "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."

The first thing Jesus did was open the Bible to them and tell them about himself, explaining to them about how this Jesus they were lamenting was really the Messiah of God.

Then they got home and invited him in to eat with them. They still didn't know who he was, but they remembered Jesus' teaching about welcoming the stranger so they compelled him to come in.

Then he fed them, (verses 30-31)
"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him."

I have participated in all sorts of Communion Services over the years.

I took communion at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford England. That was quite an experience. All "bells and smells," and boy's choirs and ushers in "morning clothes."

I've also sat in little Slate Mountain Missionary Baptist Church and passed a plate full of little cut up pieces of loaf bread and a tray full of glasses up and down the aisle.

I have celebrated communion by a lake with a bunch of teenagers,
in hospital rooms with dying people, in a hotel conference room near the airport in Chicago.

And, as different as all those sacramental moments were; they were all connected to one important thing;
that those of us who were there "knew Christ in the breaking of the Bread."

Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. They knew Jesus – they knew who he was.

Perhaps they were there the night of the Last Supper and the eerie similarity of his actions made them recognize him.

Maybe something more mystical and mysterious happened.

Either way, they knew him in the breaking of the bread.

This action of taking bread and blessing it and breaking it, opened their eyes to who Jesus was and how he had died to save them.

It also let them know that he was alive, he was risen, he was present in the world to give them life and joy and hope.

So it is with us.

When we participate in the breaking of the bread, we are reminded of what Christ did for us on the cross, and of what he continues to do for us each day of our lives.

The Breaking of the Bread gives us hope, for it opens our eyes to the living Christ in our midst.

(verses 32-35) "They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

We have a mission from God to share Christ with all people.

We have God's commandment to share the story of God's love with the world.

We are called by God to get up from the table and to go out on the road and point people to Christ.

The Rev. DT Niles of India said,
"Evangelism is simple. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food."

The world is full of people who have lost hope.

The world is full of people who have lost a vision of goodness.

The world is full of people who are wandering dazed and confused, down the road to Emmaus,

The World is full of people who are looking for someone or some thing to lift them up and give them joy again.

The world is full of beggars in search of the true bread from heaven.

And we are to go out and invite them to the table where we have been fed.

Are you one of those who has lost hope? Come to the table.

Are you one of those who needs a new vision of God's love? Come to the table.

Are you one of those who seeks to understand the ways of God with the world? Come to the table.

Yes, Come to the Table.

Come to the Table and receive Jesus Christ.

Come to the Table and receive the True Bread from heaven.

Come to the Table and receive New Hope for Life.

Yes, let all of us come to the Table.

Christ is Risen,
Christ is Risen Indeed! Amen and amen.